- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii House Speaker Joseph Souki on Thursday formally reprimanded a House lawmaker for her conduct during public hearings and threatened her committee assignments.

Souki said in a letter to Rep. Faye Hanohano that he would remove her from all committee assignments if she is disruptive, disrespectful or discourteous.

“Your conduct during the public hearings was intimidating and displayed, at a minimum, a lack of respect and courtesy,” Souki said in the letter.

A staffer at Hanohano’s office at the Capitol said the representative wouldn’t comment on Thursday.

Last month, a Hawaii Pacific University student told lawmakers Hanohano rudely upbraided him when he spoke at a committee hearing on shark fishing.



Six days later, Department of Land and Natural Resources chairman William Aila wrote Souki to say Hanohano had been abusive and racially discriminatory to department staffers.

Souki said an investigation found the complaints were substantially accurate. Hanohano’s behavior lessened public confidence in the integrity of the House.

“Your conduct was unacceptable, was in violation of the House Code of Legislative Conduct and was disruptive to our workplace,” Souki wrote.

The House leadership initially considered more severe punishments, including suspending Hanohano or stripping her of her committee chairmanship, Souki told reporters in a news conference. Souki said that a few weeks ago he reached out to Hanohano asking for her input on how to handle the situation, but she didn’t respond.

However, since then her conduct has improved, which Souki considers a “tacit apology,” so the group chose to write the warning letter instead, he said.

“As time went by, her character changed, her civility was better, and she was becoming the Chairman Hanohano we’ve known in the past,” Souki said.

Hanohano, a Democrat representing Puna, sits on five House committees. She is chairwoman of the Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs Committee.

Hanohano, an outspoken advocate of Hawaiian issues, has been criticized for previous interactions. She apologized on the House floor last year after using racial slurs disparaging white, Japanese and Chinese people to express disapproval of art in her office.

This week, Hanohano stirred her colleagues again by speaking in Hawaiian on the House floor. When asked to translate, she responded: “I don’t want to translate. Mahalo.”

Both English and Hawaiian are recognized as the official languages of the state, but the vast majority of House members don’t understand Hawaiian, including the clerk, Souki said.

Souki said he expects that members who speak in another language would have the civility to translate. Otherwise, they would have to hire interpreters, he said.

“I would hate to do that, because it would mean additional cost to the people of the state of Hawaii,” Souki said.

Souki said House leadership will monitor Hanohano for the rest of the legislative session.

The Hawaii House of Representatives has never before stripped a member of committee assignments, said House spokeswoman Carolyn Tanaka. The Hawaii Senate did strip a lawmaker of his committee assignments in 1990, when former Sen. Steve Cobb was censured for soliciting a prostitute, according to 1989-1990 news reports provided by Tanaka. At the time, Cobb was believed to be the first Hawaii lawmaker to be censured.

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Associated Press writers Sam Eifling and Oskar Garcia contributed to this report.

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