Hawaii Sunshine Law Needs an Update

capitol-sky

Hawaii’s “Sunshine Law” turns 40 years old today, and is still a critical tool in keeping state government accessible and transparent. But a lot has changed over those four decades, and a pair of bills have been working their way through the legislature to update the law for the 21st century.

After passing out of the Senate and crossing over to the House, both bills passed their first hearing in the judiciary committee. But they have yet to be scheduled by the finance committee, and they need to be heard next week if they are to make it to conference committee and become law.

“If enacted, these would be the first Sunshine reforms favoring public participation in two decades,” says R. Brian Black of the Civil Beat Law Center. “Anyone who has tried to understand what is happening at the HCDA, UH Regents, or any other board will recognize the benefit of these bills.”

Black has put together a web page explaining the key points of both bills and why they should be passed, and is encouraging supporters to contact committee chair Rep. Sylvia Luke and vice chair Rep. Scott Nishimoto and urge them to schedule the bills for a hearing.

The bill that would amend the “Sunshine Law” for the internet age is Senate Bill 475. It calls for:

  • The posting of meeting notices on the web (like on the state’s Calendar of Events) and for citizens to ask to receive them via email, something that Black says a majority of states already offer. As it stands, the current Sunshine Law calls for notices to be filed with the Lieutenant Governor and by mail. By mail!
  • The posting of meeting minutes on the web. Right now, meeting minutes are only provided by request.
  • The availability of “board packets” (which are prepared for board members in advance of meetings), also before the meeting, rather than afterward.
  • The ability to record video of a meeting, rather than just with a “tape recorder” or some other form of “sonic reproduction.”

“The Sunshine Law’s notice scheme is still essentially the same as it was when the law was first passed in 1975 [and] does not reference or take advantage of newer technologies such as the internet or e-mail,” wrote Cheryl Kakazu Park, director of the Office of Information Practices, in supporting testimony. “This bill would thus bring the Sunshine Law into the 21st century without leaving behind anyone still relying on the paper filings and mailed notification provided for by the current law.”

“In an age where business is largely reliant on technology and communicating electronically, we believe that SB475 will move our sunshine law – and effective government/citizen collaboration – forward,” wrote Carmille Lim, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii.

The other bill, Senate Bill 652, requires a public agency board to report any discussion or final action taken during an executive meeting.

To join supporters of open government in urging lawmakers to hear and pass these bills, you can email Rep. Sylvia Luke at repluke@capitol.hawaii.gov and Rep. Scott Nishimoto at repnishimoto@capitol.hawaii.gov. But if you prefer outdated technology, you can also fax them at (808) 586-6201 or (808) 586-8519.

Heck, to make a point, I’ve half a mind to send my message via telegram. In morse code.

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