Chair Marcus Oshiro, Vice Chair Marilyn Lee, members of the Committee on Finance,
Bills such as SB 2859 SD1 are very difficult to judge on their merits, because no matter what the laws and rules are, detection of any violation of the the laws are not easy. We just have to depend on the willing acceptance of the spirit of open government by all board members which is necessary if we are to have a democratic form of government.
We would like to make comments on three of the amendments to our open government laws. As far as allowing board members present at a meeting that must be canceled for lack of quorum to accept testimony or presentations from members of the public and even ask questions for clarity, or more detailed explanations, etc. we believe is acceptable. I have been to such a meeting where without testimony, we did have some informal discussion which I doubt took anything away from the next regular meeting. Besides, in most cases, there will be some members of the public aware of the open meeting laws ready to issue complaints or just to warn the meeting participants to stick to the rules.
At such a meeting, careful attention must be given to the avoidance of deliberation and decision making. In a regular meeting, the tell-tale evidence of discussions having lead to agreements outside the meeting would be the all too brief deliberations. Genuine, thoughtful oral deliberations can most often and sometimes very gradually lead to consensus, so that before a vote is taken, the audience can predict the outcome. This is what we want.
In subsection (e) concerning two or more members of a board, but less than the number of board members which would constitute a quorum for the board attending an informational meeting or presentation on matters relating to official board business, etc., we would ask you to delete the phrase, in the second sentence, “including discussion among themselves;”....... They may be free to enter discussions with others, but should refrain from discussions among themselves. Because of the nature of the topic before them, this could turn into a discussion only among themselves.
As to chapter 92 – 2.5 (f), its difficult to fathom how this is going to work without further
clarification. We'd want to know the policies they adopt “on the use of social media” and how no commitment to vote is made or sought, the extent to which the discussion on the social media website:
1. Is accessiible at any time to any member of the public with an internet connection.
2. Allows participation by interested members of the public.
3. Remains available for public viewing for a reasonable period of time on the social media. “
The provision under 2. is quite interesting. Some boards at present allow for questioning and comments from the public during their meetings, not merely at the beginning of the agenda, which makes them more informative and thought-provoking. And, very often, the members of the audience
have information and ideas beneficial to the board.
Would you get into a debate with members of the public on the website or would there be rules to control the discussions?
Would each board member participating in one website then be able to separately join other websites with different members of the Board?
What is a reasonable period of time? Would the members have to report these conversations at their regular meetings? How do we know that the same board members are not participating on other websites under assumed names.
Can the policies being developed by the Attorney General's office be the policy for all boards with the only option allowable being a tightening of the rules, not relaxing them?
Realizing that the social media is so important for public discourse today, with all of our questions answered, we would be agreeable to trying it for some time. We are encouraged by the lapsing of the provisions of subsection (e) of this bill in 2016. We would hope to get some indications of the effects of allowing conversations on social media have on encouraging the openness of board meetings at the end of two years, such that policies can be tightened if necessary.
It has dawned on us that the legislature need not rush this bill. You have plenty of time till the end of the session. We would like to suggest that you defer any decision on this bill at this time, and bring all interested parties together for a meeting at which time, who knows, we may reach consensus on a workable bill.
Thank you for this opportunity to testify on SB 2859, SD1.