BIPC joins effort to save Sunshine Law

Keeping government open is hard, especially when government tries to sneak things through the Legislature — like weakening a key proposal of the Sunshine Law under the guise of improving efficiency. That’s what House Bill 1611 tried to do.

This dastardly measure, as originally proposed, would have amended the portion of HRS 92 to allow additional interactions among board members for matters not pertaining to their subject matter. It would also have mandated boards keep a roster of e-mail addresses and send notices to interested individuals. Ho-hum. It would also have reduced the current six-day meeting notice to four.

Wait, what?

Here’s what the bill said:

     The legislature further recognizes that the Sunshine Law’s six-day-notice requirement for public meetings was established prior to the advent of e-mail communication, when members of the public generally had to rely on the postal service for the delivery of meeting agendas.  In recent years, state and county boards have developed the ability to provide meeting agendas to members of the public via e-mail on the same day that the agendas are physically posted in a government office.  With the ability to immediately transmit meeting agendas electronically to interested members of the public, the six-day-notice requirement is antiquated, excessive, and unduly slows the deliberative process, causing the public to lose faith in government.  Establishing a four-day-notice requirement and allowing for the delivery of agendas by e-mail would afford state and county boards the ability to act more quickly and effectively, while preserving the public’s right to know.

Blah blah blah. Poor government. Always having to give the public notice before the unelected boards and commissions go off and make billion-dollar decisions on your dime. With some very fast correspondence BIPC board members were able to put together the following testimony, which we submitted the day of the hearing.

The Big Island Press Club

January 24, 2012

The Hon. Gilbert Keith-Agaran

And members of the Committee on Judiciary

Dear Chair Keith-Agaran,

The Big Island Press Club opposes any proposal to weaken the provision of the Sunshine

Law relating to the sik-day notice for public meetings. This bill ~tates in its preamble:

“With the ability to immediately transmit meeting agendas

electronically to interested members of the public, the six—day-notice

requirement is antiquated, excessive, and unduly slows the deliberative

process, causing the public to lose faith in government. (Emphasis

added)

Please note that the preamble quoted above mentions two separate ideas, public notice

and deliberation.

Regarding public notice: Speed of sending electronic notices does not translate to speed

in receiving electronic notices. The Big Island where our club is centered is twice as big

as all of the other islands combined. There are large areas where cell phone service is

unreliable or completely absent.

Sending email notices does not mean every recipient will be standing by his or her

computer waiting to receive a notice. Some people do not check their email for a day or

even several days. This change would disenfranchise citizens without regular access to

the Internet.

Regarding deliberation – The preamble mentions the “deliberative process” of

government agencies, but it should be clear that the public requires time for its own

deliberations. An individual needs time to think. An organization, such as the Big Island

Press Club, needs a lot more time to think, since each of the individuals on the board of

directors have to think, confer, and decide with others members on the board.

Even with deliberation complete, public response, such as giving testimony in person,

can be very time-consuming. To drive between East Hawaii and West Hawaii is roughly

a 200-mile round trip, which cannot necessarily be done at the drop of a four-day hat.

A few years ago, the Hawaii County Council gave notice of a reorganizational meeting

just before a weekend, and then held the meeting right after the weekend. It was difficultto be aware of

their actions with a six-day notice. A four-day notice would increase the

potential for abuse.

Electronic communications maybe fast but we emphasize that is only a “maybe.” The

speed of human thought and deliberation has not increased. The existing six-day notice

requirement is not “antiquated,” nor is it “excessive.”

Does the six-day requirement cause the public to lose faith in government? No, of course

it does not. This is an example of an overly broad statement, unsupported by facts. People

lose faith in government when government bodies leave people out of their decisionmaking process, and

one way to ensure that is to shorten the public notice requirements

of the Sunshine Law.. Trust in government is eroded when government bodies give the

appearance of rushed decisions in the name of expediency.

Regarding the other provisions of House Bill 1611, the Big Island Press Club is neutral

regarding the changes to permitted actions among board members, provided it does not

infringe upon the principle of government doing the public’s business in a public setting.

BIPC also supports the practice of notifying the public by e-mail, provided it supports

and does not supplant other methods of public notice.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to voice our concerns.

Sincerely,

Yisa Var, president, Big Island Press Club

Peter Sur, immediate past president

 

Although uncredited, Rod Thompson had much to do with the final draft of this letter.

We were heartened to hear that we were not alone in our sentiment.

 

The following individuals and organizations also sent in testimony opposing the reduced notice:

Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation

League of Women Voters

Sherry Bracken (who is also a BIPC board member)

Jo Kamae Byrne

Office of Information Practices

Americans for Democratic Action

Common Cause Hawaii

Media Council Hawaii

Peter L. Fritz

Laurie Baron

Robin Kaye

Annie Kamiya

Nancy Davlantes

Jeanne Ohta

Brenda Ching

Pat Tummons, BIPC member

R. Elton Johnson III

Laurien Helfrich-Nuss

 

According to KHON, the Judiciary Committee stripped out the measures relating to weakening the six-day notice and also the one relating to e-mail. The Big Island Press Club wishes to thank and recognize those individuals listed above for joining the effort to keep government in the sunshine.