Monday, March 17, 2008


THROW 'EM A BONE: In honor of Sunshine Week the legislature is poised to gut the essence of the Hawai`i Sunshine Law.

Bill SB 2174, which has now crossed over to the House, would allow more than two members of a government “board” to meet and discuss business in secret as long as a quorum is not present.

And the red herrings are flying again, indicating how badly these people want to hide their hand.

According to an article in the Honolulu Advertiser the latest official to advocate repeal of the law is Karen Knudsen, first vice chair of the state Board of Education, who says the law is “just not practical” because she can’t conduct business in secret.

Maui County Council Chairman G. Riki Hokama is quoted as saying the Maui Council wants to “chang(e) the law to give council members and other public officials more flexibility to conduct public business in an efficient manner without violating the sunshine law”.

They all repeat the straw man that is being raised again by some, that the law prevents them from attending presentation or even having lunch together. But that isn’t any part of the law.

What the law is intended to do- and does- is to prohibit more than two members from discussing issues that are before the board or may be on the agenda, unless it’s done in pubic.

It does not prevent more than two of them to listen to a presentation, have lunch together or attend a lecture or meeting as many disingenuously profess. You can discuss your lunch order or your grandchildren all you want as long as you don’t discuss a law intended to regulate your lunch or grandchildren.

No third parties can be used to circumvent this law nor can you “play telephone” and pass the conversation on throughout the board one member at a time either, as the OIP has long ago opined and recently Hawai`i courts have ruled.

The law is there to make sure that public policy is conducted before the public. But the Senate has passed- and the House is poised to follow suit- a law enabling them to essentially do everything but the voting, or actually verbally pledge to do so, in secret.

This is at the very heart of sunshine laws. If it passed we would move from being a state having one of the best sunshine laws- even though our enforcement is terrible according to a recent national study- to being what the article calls a “quorum” state, with little restrictions on back room deals as long as it’s done with less than the number of members that constitute a quorum, usually one more than half.

Those who have complained about sunshine laws from Day 1 are apparently the ones who have no idea what the law is about in the first place- or apparently don’t want to understand it. And although we’ve heard these complaints that they can’t be secretive and corrupt for the last 32 years that the law has been in existence in Hawai`i, this is the first year that the threat to open governance has come to the point where a bill has been passed in the Senate and has crossed over and is being considered by the House.

But why not? .This State is controlled in full by the Legislature which, as the article points out, exempts itself from the law. And of course there is no way to allow the people to change the law because, as we stated yesterday, there is no initiative or referendum nor petitioning to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in Hawai`i.

Although it is part and parcel of the process, especially here on Kaua`i- where any viewing of Council meetings make it apparent that agreements on disposition have been made before agenda items are read and disposed of in sessions- it has always been illegal to do it.

Back in 1989 Tom Toles, political cartoonist extraordinaire, had a piece that remained on our refrigerator for years. It showed the newly democratic Russian Bear being scolded by Uncle Sam for not following it’s laws against corporate control and corruption. But, Sammy says as an aside, that’s because their democracy is young... soon their corporate buddies will be able to actually write the law.

As a 49-year-young democracy, we in Hawai`i are truly maturing it seems.

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