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More than a dozen California legislators are lodged in Hawaii's fancy Fairmont Kea Lani hotel this week -- hobnobbing and talking public policy with dozens of corporate, union and other officials that do business at the Capitol.

The annual invitation-only conference is sponsored by the California Independent Voter Project, a nonprofit public policy group that is funded through various business, labor and other groups.

Legislators' travel to Maui and their hotel tabs will be picked up by the nonprofit unless they opt to pay their own way.

Dan Howle, event organizer, declined to identify members of the California Legislature participating in the annual conference. He said they consist both of Republicans and Democrats. Several of the lawmakers are paying their own way.

The Kea Lani resort describes itself as a "luxurious haven in one of the most scenic places on Earth." It touts a sandy beach, three swimming pools, fine dining, and activities ranging from sailing to kayaking.

Mixing business with pleasure, legislators participate each morning in discussions on health care, energy, economic development, telecommunications, public safety and other issues. Afternoons are free to mingle, socialize or enjoy Maui's tourist attractions.

Political issues to be discussed include the possibility of imposing instant online reporting of political donations and moving California's primary elections from June to September.

Howle said the conference is held in Hawaii each year, rather than California, because the ambience encourages attendance and allows sponsors to be charged enough to make the event a major fundraiser for Independent Voter Project.

"There's something about being here that makes for a better degree of cooperation," Howle said. "You get people who are polar opposites talking here, and some of that carries over into Sacramento -- and it doesn't happen in California."

"I've seen developed, over the course of years, relationships that you'd never have imagined," Howle said. "There has been very, very productive cooperation ... It just works."

In addition to 13 or 14 California legislators, the conference includes about a half-dozen lawmakers from Illinois, Texas and Idaho, and more than 100 corporate, labor or other representatives. Fifty or 60 sponsors pay the tab, Howle said.

A separate nonprofit group, Pacific Policy Foundation, is scheduled to host a separate Maui conference later this week, with about eight to 10 legislators expected, Howle said, adding that the lawmakers attending his conference will not participate in the later gathering.

November typically is prime time for lawmakers to engage in out-of-state policy conferences or study trips, some paid by corporate sponsors, some by the officeholders themselves. California's Legislature does not typically meet that month and this year's elections ended a week ago.

Four state senators are picking up their own travel and hotel tab for a 13-day study trip to New Zealand and Australia, which will bankroll some in-country expenses, such as meals or ground transportation, said Mark Hedlund, Senate spokesman. The trip began Nov. 8 and is set to end Tuesday.

Participating senators are Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, of Diamond Bar; Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield; Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; and Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, Hedlund said.

California's four-person Senate contingent with meet in Australia and New Zealand with legislators, government officials, business executives and others to discuss education, economic, trade, clean energy, emergency management and other issues, Hedlund said.

* Updated at 12:40 p.m. with details on the Senate trip to New Zealand and Australia.


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