February 12, 2015

Hawaii Legislature Takes Up Bill to Reestablish Ombuds Office at University of Hawai'i

Last week, the Hawaii State House Committee on Higher Education unanimously approved a bill (HI HB96) to establish and appopriate funds for an Ombuds Office at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Sponsored by Rep Isaac Choy [D], the legislation reflects the latest effort to restart an Ombuds program that existed from 2006 through 2009, when it was closed during a UH budget crisis. The bill would allocate funds for an office to open in July 2015. 

According to one state political insider, the bill is "pretty flawed" and the legislators have been advised to refer to IOA materials.  He was skepical that the bill would be enacted.

Here is the text of the current bill:
SECTION 1. Chapter 304A, Hawaii Revised Statutes, is amended by adding a new section to be appropriately designated and to read as follows:
"§304A- University of Hawaii at Manoa; office of the ombuds. (a) There is established at the University of Hawaii at Manoa the office of the ombuds, which shall be attached administratively to the chancellor of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
(b) The office of the ombuds shall provide assistance to, and enhance the communication of, the views and voices of faculty, students, staff, and the surrounding community through investigation, analysis, mediation, and public reporting. Assistance provided by the office of the ombuds shall include:
(1) Providing an office to register confidential complaints, problems, or issues:
(A) Confidentiality shall be granted upon request unless disclosure is otherwise required by law or there exists an imminent risk of serious harm; and
(B) Ombuds staff shall not disclose the identity of persons who seek assistance, and the contents of communications with those persons, or third parties the person requesting assistance authorizes ombuds staff to contact, shall be privileged. The privilege may be waived only by the office of the ombuds;
(2) Providing impartial and neutral advocacy for fair processes, considering the rights of all parties, and taking no personal stake in the outcome of any matter brought to the attention of the office of ombuds; and
(3) Operating as an independent office not directed or limited by the chancellor of the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the course of providing assistance in any particular matter and shall observe the confidentiality required by paragraph (1) in any communications with the chancellor regarding its handling of matters, generally.
(c) Issues that may be brought to the attention of the office of the ombuds shall include the following:
(1) Communicating the views and voices of students, faculty, and staff to decision makers;
(2) Harassment or discrimination;
(3) Violations of University of Hawaii at Manoa policy;
(4) Professional and organizational disputes;
(5) Ethical dilemmas;
(6) Cultural misunderstandings;
(7) Conflicts of interest;
(8) Student employment issues and disputes;
(9) Assistance to administrators and regents in analyzing and framing difficult issues;
(10) Disputes between the university and the community at large;
(11) Health and safety concerns;
(12) Availability and transparency of public information regarding university policies, finances, decisions, and programs;
(13) Academic freedom; and
(14) Threats or retaliation.
(d) When responding to requests for assistance under this section, the office of the ombuds:
(1) May:
(A) Offer information about University of Hawaii at Manoa policies and procedures;
(B) Identify a range of options for resolving a particular matter;
(C) Have access to information and offer referrals to other resources;
(D) Facilitate communication, whether directly or indirectly; and
(E) Provide other services, including mediation, reasonably necessary to fulfill the purposes of this section; and
(2) May not:
(A) Make policy or administrative decisions on behalf of administrators or staff;
(B) Establish, change, or set aside policies of the University of Hawaii at Manoa;
(C) Offer legal advice or psychological counseling;
(D) Participate in grievances or other formal dispute resolution processes; or
(E) Serve as an agent of notice for University of Hawaii at Manoa or as an advocate for any person seeking assistance.
(e) Subject to subsection (b)(3), the office of ombuds shall have access to and have authority to track statistics regarding requests for assistance received by the office and may communicate perceived issues and trends, and make recommendations for institutional improvements, to the chancellor of University of Hawaii at Manoa and other appropriate officials.
(f) All offices and employees of the University of Hawaii at Manoa shall timely respond to and provide assistance as reasonably requested by the office of the ombuds. As necessary, the chancellor of the University of Hawaii at Manoa shall use the powers of the chancellor's office to secure the assistance required by this subsection."
SECTION 2. There is appropriated out of the general revenues of the State of Hawaii the sum of $______ or so much thereof as may be necessary for fiscal year 2015-2016 and the same sum or so much thereof as may be necessary for fiscal year 2016-2017 to establish and operate the office of the ombuds at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The sums appropriated shall be expended by the University of Hawaii for the purposes of this Act.
SECTION 3. New statutory material is underscored.
SECTION 4. This Act shall take effect on July 1, 2015. 
(Legiscan, HI HB96.)

Related posts: University of Hawaii Issues First Annual Report; Budget Cuts Force Closure of University of Hawaii Ombuds Office; Is the University of Hawai'i Planning to Reopen its Ombuds Offfice?

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