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LWV-Hawaii Legislative Testimony

HB 551 HD1

Relating to
Public Meetings (Sunshine Law)

House Committee on Judiciary (JUD) - chair: Luke, vice chair: Oshiro

Tuesday, March 1, 2005,

Testifier: Jean Aoki, Legislative Chair, LWV-Hawaii

Click here to view HB551 HD1

H.B. 551, H.D.1 is an improvement over the original 551.

The objective of the Sunshine Law is not to make life difficult for members of boards, commissions, legislative bodies, etc. It is to make sure that the sharing of information and deliberations on the issues on the agenda are done in public so that the press and members of the public present can understand the reasoning that lead to the final decision on any issue. This is meant to prevent the discussions and decision-making in private meetings followed by pro forma public meetings where the official votes are taken which leaves the public wondering about the motives of the members that led to the decisions.

I guess, its a law that is difficult to fashion. If it is too restrictive, it makes it difficult for board members to function. If it is too lax, the purpose for having the law is defeated. However the law is fashioned, there has to be the commitment of all involved--- board members, elected or appointed officials that deal with the commissions and committees --- to the spirit of the sunshine law. Discussions about the sunshine law is important and as each board is formed, the first meeting should involve a presentation on this by the Director of OIP followed by a question and answer period.

I happen to be aware of at least one instance where the chair of a committee was convinced to support the head of the agency to which this committee was attached on a particular agenda item. That was the swing vote that determined the outcome of the vote. Of course, this didn’t come out till later. If everyone were to understand and accept the spirit of the law, these disregard of the law should not happen.

I believe that many misperceptions about the requirement of this law still exists. I can see where a commission member may need some information or doesn’t quite understand some part of an issue and seeks the answer from another member. This will give that member an opportunity to more fully prepare for the discussion and decision making at the meeting. two from the same island were afraid to sit together because they would be seen as discussing the past meeting or the decisions made at that meeting. I thought, we need some common sense in interpreting the law. Also, subsequent discussions on the same issue at the legislature and at other meetings have me convinced that we really do need some forum for a thorough discussion of the whole law and its interpretations. What’s possible and what is not possible under that law and are there parts of it that need revision. Let’s involve board members, the press, and the general public and let common sense prevail. I do object to piece-meal changes that erode the law.


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