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Open Records - Key to KIUC Accountability (Carol Bain)
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Statement on Kaua'i Court Ruling Allowing Agencies to Challenge Office of Information Practices
Open government and journalists group leaders issued a public statement today in response to a recent court ruling on the open records law. The leaders and their organizations include: Right To Committee, League of Women Voters of Hawai'i, League of Women Voters of Kaua'i County, Society of Professional Journalists Hawai'i Chapter, Big Island Press Club, Citizen Voice, Hawai'i Pro-Democracy Initiative, and Honolulu Community-Media Council.
The statement of these groups follows:
Before 1989, people had to sue their government to force it to release a record that should be public. Fortunately, that year the Legislature amended the Hawai'i open records law to allow the public to appeal a records denial to a state agency the Office of Information Practices.
If OIP upheld a denial, the requestor could still appeal to circuit court. But, as HRS section 92F15.5(b) states, if OIP's "decision is to disclose, the Office of Information Practices shall notify the person and the agency, and the agency shall make the record available."
Sounds straightforward and clear. But a senior judge on Kaua'i thinks otherwise.
Earlier this year, the Kaua'i County Council refused to release executive session minutes requested by Kaua'I residents and a journalist. On appeal, OIP reviewed the minutes and ruled that the records must be made public.
Instead of providing the minutes, the Council challenged the ruling by filing a lawsuit in June. Although the Council's right to file the lawsuit was questioned, two months later Kaua'i Judge George Masuoka ruled that an agency is allowed to appeal an OIP ruling to a court.
We must respectfully disagree. because the legislative intent of the law could not have been clearer. Three legislative committees reviewed the bill and stated their intent in committee reports, all of which contained the following identical language.
"Your Committee wishes to emphasize that while a person has a right to bring a civil action to circuit court to appeal a denial of access to a government record. a government agency dissatisfied with an administrative ruling by the OIP does not have the right to bring an action in circuit court to contest the OIP ruling."
We believe the open records law and the intent of its drafters has been misunderstood. We hope an appeal to the highest court isn't necessary to fulfill the policy intent of Hawaii's open records law. Documents on this issue are online at wnzv.newhawaii.org