Thanks to KITV for calling attention to the last minute resurrection of a 2009 bill (HB 1212) that would strip the public of the ability to know the existence of pending complaints against licensed professionals. The bill died in conference committee last year, but was suddenly resurrected on Monday when House conferees were appointed.
The bad news is that the House conferees include Rep. Isaac Choy, who represents the Manoa area, is a CPA, a licensed profession that would get less public scrutiny if the bill passes, and has close ties to one of the bill’s key proponents.
Russel Yamashita, registered lobbyist for the Hawaii Dental Association, one of the primary backers of this bill, is the chair of Choy’s campaign committee, Friends for Isaac W. Choy, according to the campaign’s organizational report filed with the Campaign Spending Commission. The Dental Association has consistently presented testimony and lobbied for this and similar bills over several legislative sessions.
Yamashita’s lobbyist registration and Choy’s campaign committee share the mailing address of several businesses in which Choy reports an interest (see his 2008 and 2009 financial disclosure reports), including Manoa Consulting Group LLC, Isaac W. Choy CPA Inc., Ukumaruku Corp., and K H Choy & Associates.
I should disclosed that I consider Russel Yamashita a friend and have benefited from his advice on various issues, although I strongly disagree with his position on this question of consumer protection and information policy.
HB 1212 had a single referral to the House Judiciary Committee last year. Choy is the only House conferee who does not sit on Judiciary, so I’m worried that his appointment as conferee is a result of House leadership giving him an opportunity to push the bill towards final approval. This is not good.
Under current law, information concerning “an individual’s fitness to be granted or to retain a license” is considered private and confidential, except for records of complaints resulting in disciplinary action, and the “record of complaints including all dispositions.”
This bill, in its current form, would strip the “record of complaints” from the public record.
The problem here is that complaints take months, sometimes years to be investigated, so someone can rack up a long list of complaints before the first disciplinary action is finally taken. And a short list of complaints that result in actual disciplinary action may mask a much longer list of outstanding consumer complaints. Under the terms of this bill, the public would be left to fend for themselves without access to this key bit of consumer background.
And there’s more.
Here’s what I wrote last year at this time when HB1212 was sent to conference committee. Nothing has changed except that, this time around, it’s been a year since anyone has looked at the bill and the negative public reaction and detailed testimony in opposition has faded.
The Legislature is poised to take away the public’s right to know about the record of complaints against licensed professionals, including contractors, realtors, and others. The Senate adopted only minor changes to HB1212, leaving few differences to resolve in conference. Unless there’s a dramatic turnaround in sentiment, the House and Senate are going to take away a consumers ability to assess the records of these professionals and steer away from those with questionable records.
And it may be worse than it looks. The Office of Information Practices testified that the bill could prevent information about complaints from being shared with investigators and expert witnesses who are part of pending investigations, the Office of Administrative Hearings, and even with the licensing boards themselves. OIP described public information about complaint histories as an important resource for consumers.
Unfortunately, its testimony apparently fell on deaf ears.
Senator Les Ihara spoke against the bill last year, and the points he raised remain valid.
Testimony presented in 2009 is available online.