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Royelen Lee BOYKIE
March 15, 2022
Torch of Light Award Winner Announced

Torch of Light Award Winner Announced

Kanuha Awarded Meritorious Torch of Light Award; San Buenaventura and Others Earn Lava Tube Dishonor

The Big Island Press Club awards its annual meritorious Torch of Light Award to state Sen. Dru Mamo Kanuha, a Democrat representing Kona and Kaʻu, and the Lava Tube dishonor award to a group of 10 state senators, including Sen. Joy San Buenaventura, a Democrat representing Puna and Ka’u. The Torch of Light award is given to an individual or entity for illuminating the public’s right to know, while the Lava Tube dishonor is given for a lack of communication and keeping the public in the dark. The awards are announced yearly on March 16, Freedom of Information Day, the birthday of James Madison, who was widely regarded as the father of the U.S. Constitution and the leading advocate of openness in government among our founding fathers.

2022 Torch of Light

BIPC has selected state Sen. Dru Mamo Kanuha as its “Torch of Light” awardee this year for being the introducer of Senate Bill 134 in the 2021 Legislature, which, if passed into law, would have prohibited the governor or county mayors from suspending requests for public records or vital statistics during a declared state of emergency.

Kanuha’s introduction of the bill, with Sens. Gilbert Keith‐Agaran of Maui and Donna Mercado Kim of Oahu signing on, came almost a year after Gov. David Ige signed a proclamation during the novel coronavirus pandemic that suspended the state’s Uniform Information Practices Act, a law that specifies government records are open to public inspection with limited privacy exceptions. Even though Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, rolled back the blanket suspension of the UIPA in May 2020, he removed the deadline of 10 working days state agencies have to respond to records requests.

The bill died in a Senate‐House conference committee and Ige received the BIPC’s Lava Tube dishonor for his actions in 2021.

Kanuha said he introduced the measure because he considers “transparency and access to public information really important,” even during an emergency.

“I had constituents calling me trying to receive access to a lot of their vital records. And it was almost impossible for them to get it,” he said. “And especially, with a lot of these programs and subsidies that were coming through the feds, a lot of people needed access to vital records – their birth certificates, marriage licenses.

“On top of that, I think we need to be even more transparent about the actions government is doing, during emergencies, especially.”

Kanuha will be presented with BIPC’s iconic torch award at the organization’s annual meeting later this year.

Lava Tube Dishonor

BIPC has chosen a group of 10 state senators to share the Lava Tube dishonor. Their selection stems from their introduction and support of Senate Bill 720, which, if passed would have all but exempted county councils from the state’s open meetings law, commonly referred to as the “Sunshine Law.”

The measure, if passed, would have allowed “the presiding member of a county council meeting (to) temporarily recess the meeting, during which members may conduct business off the record.”

Currently under the Sunshine Law, a limit of two members of a council or a governmental board can discuss between themselves matters relating to official business, as long as the two members don’t constitute a quorum, and no commitment to vote a certain way is sought or promised. The only exceptions are to discuss confidential personnel matters or litigation.

The bill was co‐introduced by former Sen. Kalani English, who has since made a plea deal with federal authorities for accepting bribes and has resigned, and fellow Maui Democrat Keith‐Agaran. Also signing on were Kim and fellow Oahu Democrats Michelle Kidani, Bennette Misalucha, Clarence Nishihara, Maile Shimabukuro, Brian Taniguchi and Glenn Wakai, plus Sen. Joy San Buenaventura, who represents Puna and Ka’u, and was the only Big Island senator to support the measure.

San Buenaventura said at the time she doesn’t favor “lifting the Sunshine Law, altogether,” but supported the intent of the bill, which she said was to give council members a “temporary recess during which they could conduct discussions off the record.”

“It’s kind of similar to what we do in the Legislature,” she said. The Legislature exempted themselves from the Sunshine Law when it passed it in 1978.

The bill was shelved by the Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs after 33 pages of written testimony – all in opposition – were submitted, including by BIPC.

“There’s a common saying that the exception proves the rule,” then‐BIPC President Nancy Cook Lauer testified. “But in this case, the exception consumes the rule. If this exemption were allowed, there is scarcely a reason to have a Sunshine Law at all, and it would be a farce to continue referring to it as such.”

Sen. Joy San Buenaventura And Jeff Portnoy, a Honolulu attorney who represents numerous media outlets and is an expert on First Amendment and media law, called the proposed amendment to the open meetings law “about as anti‐ a public access provision as I’ve seen in some time.”

Previous Torch of Light Honorees

2020 James Hustace and the Waimea Community Association

2019 W.H. Shipman, Ltd. President Margaret “Peggy” Farias

2018 Sue Lee Loy, Hawaii County Councilwoman

2017 Brian Black of the Civil Beat Law Center

2016 West Hawaii Today reporter Nancy Cook Lauer

2015 State Sen. Lorraine Inouye

2014 USGS HVO Scientists

2013 Mayor Billy Kenoi

2012 County Councilwoman and State Rep. Helene Hale (posthumously)

2011 State Judicial Selection Commission 2010 Hawaii County Civil Defense and other departments 2009 Legislature, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle

2008 Les Kondo, Office of Information Practices

2007 West Hawaii Today

2006 Lillian Koller, State Department of Human Services

2005 Retired Circuit Judge Paul de Silva

2004 UH Manoa Journalism Professor Beverly Keever

2003 U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink (posthumously)

2002 Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim

2001 Hawaii County Clerk Al Konishi

2000 Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano

1999 Jerry Rothstein and Judith Graham

1998 Environment Hawaii and Common Cause

1997 Society of Professional Journalists, Hawaii Chapter

Previous Lava Tube Dishonorees

2020 Hawaii Gov. David Ige

2019 Pohakuloa Training Area Public Affairs Officer Michael Donnelly

2018 Hawaii County Civil Defense

2017 Hawaii Office of Information Practices

2016 Former Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi

2015 State Land Board Chairwoman Suzanne Case

2014 State Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago

2013 Democratic Party House District 5 Council

2012 State Sen. Clayton Hee

2011 Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie

2010 Hawaii County Council 2009 Noelani Whittington, County Department of Public Works

2008 Mayor Harry Kim and Hawaii County Council

2007 State Board of Education

2006 Honolulu, Kauai, and Hawaii County Councils

2005 District Judge Matthew S.K. Pyun

2004 State Land Board Chairman Peter Young

2003 State Sen. Cal Kawamoto 2002 University of Hawaii Board of Regents

2001 University of Hawaii Board of Regents

2000 State Rep. Eric Hamakawa and Hawaii County Councilman James Arakaki

1999 Hawaii County Council

1998 Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano

1997 Hawaii County Councilman Elroy Osorio

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