Chair Hee, Vice-Chair Shimabukuro and Committee Members:
The League of Women Voters requests that you hold this bill. It is not appropriate to amend Hawaii's "Sunshine Law" to authorize a county council quorum to hold a “limited meeting” to engage in discussions with private special interests which want to influence council decisions. It is even less appropriate to prohibit the public from disputing what gets said to a council quorum attending such a meeting.
Currently, Hawaii’s Sunshine Law ensures that county councils conduct the public’s business in public. The existing law guarantees the public both advance notice and the opportunity to hear, question, and disagree with any private presentation to a council quorum. The existing law also guarantees the public both advance notice, the opportunity to listen to all discussions and decisions by a council quorum, and access to official minutes of the meeting. The objective of the existing law is to prevent one-sided presentations, discussions, and vote-trading in private followed by pro-forma public council meetings where official votes are taken.
If HB 2139 SD 1 were enacted into law, a private "community group" could invite all members of a county council to hold a “limited meeting”. Unlike a normal council meeting, such a “limited meeting” could consist of a one-sided private presentation - - and the public would have no right to question or oppose the presentation. Moreover, the private “community group” hosting such a “limited meeting” could discuss council policy with a council quorum - - and exclude the public from participating in the discussion. Both these outcomes would be legalized by the following language from HB 2139 SD 1.
"... (b) A county council may hold a limited meeting open to the public as the guest of a ...
community group holding its own meeting, and the council shall not be required to ... accept oral
It is common for private interests seeking county land use approvals, private businesses seeking county contracts, private organizations which lobby county councils on multiple issues, and ad hoc private “NIMBY” alliances to form non-profit “community groups”. HB 2139 SD 1 treats “community groups” formed for advocacy purposes the same as “community groups” formed to solicit public comments and concerns. In effect, when authorizing county councils to hold a “limited meeting” as the guest of a “community group”, HB 2139 SD 1 allows county councils to meet and discuss public policy with private special interests which wish to influence council decisions.
The League of Women Voters of Hawaii is not unsympathetic with county councils members who are elected at large and wish to remain actively engaged with their constituents. However, this does not justify amending the Sunshine Law to allow county council quorums to attend one-sided private presentations and discuss council policy with private special interests without public participation.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony.