By Derrick DePledge
State Senate President Donna Mercado Kim and state House Speaker Joseph Souki have told the state Ethics Commission that the Legislature has the sole responsibility over legislative allowances.
Kim and Souki informed the Ethics Commission in an April letter that it is up to the Legislature to monitor usage and provide sanctions in regard to any misuse. "With that said, the Legislature will be reviewing our current guidelines to see if further clarification on usage is needed," they wrote.
Commission staff has been preparing recommendations on the legislative allowance for the commission to consider, but has been slowed because the Legislature has not provided all of the information the commission has requested.
Leslie Kondo, the Ethics Commission's executive director, said at a commission meeting on Wednesday that he considers the information public records. He also noted that some of the information has been released to reporters.
The Star-Advertiser, for example, reviewed legislative allowance records earlier this year and did not find any obvious patterns of abuse. Other news media have done recent stories on legislative allowances, focusing on the amount of money spent on food and travel.
Kondo has said there are concerns that lawmakers are using the allowances for personal expenses.
The legislative allowance -- about $12,000 a year -- is authorized by the state Constitution.
Some lawmakers have criticized Kondo in the past for what they see as interpretations that are overbroad and exceed the scope of the commission's role.
A staff attorney for the commission said Wednesday that the commission has previously issued an advisory opinion on legislative allowances, which related to a state senator's use of the allowance to buy equipment, such as computer hardware, computer software and books.
The commission told the senator, who had resigned, that the equipment could not be converted to personal use without violating the fair treatment portion of the ethics law. The commission ruled that the equipment was state property.
Kondo said he does not agree with the Legislature's position that it is not the commission's jurisdiction to examine how legislators use the legislative allowances.
The commission will take up the issue again at a meeting in June.