Chair Espero, Vice-Chair Baker, and Committee Members:
The League of Women Voters of Hawaii strongly opposes SB 723 which would allow a council quorum, or even all council members, to “jointly attend and speak” at any “informational meeting or presentation of another entity” which is “open to the public”. SB 723 would also exempt a council quorum attending such an event from Sunshine Law requirements which apply to council meetings.
The 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 listen to all discussions and decisions by a county council quorum. Under 2014 Sunshine Law amendments, “A county council may hold a limited meeting … as the guest of a board or community group holding its own meeting…”, provided that the council posts advance public notice, the public can attend the meeting without paying an admission fee or traveling out-of-state, no council voting commitments are made, and council minutes are prepared. 2014 Sunshine Law amendments recognize that private interests seeking county land use approvals, private businesses seeking county contracts, and ad hoc “NIMBY” groups commonly host meetings and presentations for the purpose of advocating for or against special interest projects.
SB 723 would exempt council quorums that attended an “informational meeting or presentation of another entity” from Sunshine Law requirements which apply to council meetings. Under SB 723, when a council quorum attended an “informational meeting or presentation of another entity”, no advance public notice of council attendance would be required, no council minutes would be prepared, and the public would not have the right to submit oral testimony to the council. Under SB 723, an “informational meeting or presentation of another entity” which is “open to the public” could include practically any event to which the “public has been invited” - - including events which charge admission, events which take place on the mainland or a foreign country, multi-day events which include both educational and recreational activities, and events which are organized by private special interests to influence council decisions. SB 723 would even apply to an “informational” event at Disneyland to which the “public has been invited”.
Under SB 723, while attending any “informational meeting of another entity” which is “open to the public”, a council quorum (or even all council members) would be allowed to “jointly attend and speak” to each other about their concerns with and about how to vote on council matters. And under SB 723, when a private “entity” which wished to influence council decisions on council matters invited the public to attend an “informational” presentation, SB 723 would authorize a council quorum, to “jointly attend and speak” about those council matters with that private entity. Basically the Sunshine Law would be “neutered”.
Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony.