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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 30, 2010

Hawaii's licensed professionals need HB 1212

By Dr. Craig Mason

The April 28 editorial, "Your dentist loves HB 1212 but here's why you shouldn't," should have been rewritten and headlined, "Hawai'i's licensed professionals need the protection provided by HB 1212."

The protection provided is not limited to dentists. It also includes architects, engineers, electricians, psychologists, nurses, pharmacists, veterinarians and many other professions.

Currently, all complaints, including those identified as "no jurisdiction" or "insufficient evidence," are posted to the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs website for public viewing. Under the bill, licensed Hawai'i professionals are protected from frivolous and unsubstantiated complaints that unfairly tarnish reputations, resulting not only in public humiliation, but also in lost business and income.

And while local business operators with a license are punished, unlicensed businesses, operating outside the law, which account for numerous complaints, are spared. Likewise, those who received their licenses in another state and then moved to Hawai'i are not subject to the same demeaning treatment as local licensees.

Hawai'i's dentists have no objection to public notification on the DCCA website of substantiated and adjudicated complaints. However, last year, fewer than 14 percent of the complaints listed by the DCCA on its site were substantiated and resulted in legal action by the DCCA's Regulated Industries Complaints Office.

The remaining 86 percent of the complaints, on which no action was warranted, will remain on the site for five years, leaving a stain on the professional reputation of the licensee and giving those wrongly accused no recourse or grievance procedure to confront baseless complaints before they are publicized.

This type of public shaming for both the innocent and guilty has been shunned by 47 states that do not post complaints in this manner and disclose only those that have been investigated and shown to have merit. Two other states, Washington and Iowa, only disclose complaints subject to strict criteria that Hawai'i does not follow. Only Hawai'i discloses all complaints of any kind.

The bill in question merely provides for due process and fairness to all licensees. Moreover, it follows disclosure procedures identical to those to which the Hawai'i Supreme Court subjects attorneys practicing in our state.

Contrary to the conclusion of the editorial, the bill does not prevent consumers from finding out about complaints against those holding a professional license in our state. The Hawai'i Freedom of Information Act gives consumers this power.

Requests for the information that HB 1212 would remove from the site can still be obtained by going through the Office of Information Practices. Of course, handling requests from the public requires more effort than posting uninvestigated complaints on a website. Small wonder that the OIP opposed this bill.

Hawai'i's licensed professionals support rigorous enforcement of consumer protection laws and expect vigilance by the state agencies responsible for protecting the public from unlicensed practitioners and service providers, as well as licensees who engage in unprofessional, unethical and illegal acts.

After all, these bad characters, representing themselves as licensed professionals, hurt those striving to maintain the highest standards in their professions. But placing the guilty and innocent alike on a website does nothing to help consumers determine who to call and who to avoid.