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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Bill would create task force on sunshine law

 •  Record seekers find process frustrating

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer


Here is a look at the status of some legislation addressing open records and open meetings:

• SB1062: Requires 48-hour public notice for committee hearings, public hearings on internal House and Senate rules, and majority votes to suspend legislative rules. Status: Held.

• SB1549: Subjects boards created by government to the state’s open-meetings law. Requires public announcement of action taken in closed session. Status: Not moving.

• SB2366, HB2403: Empowers the state Office of Information Practices to go to court to enforce sunshine law decisions. Status: Not moving in Senate. Deferred in House.

• SB2365, HB2402: Empowers the OIP to go to court if agencies refuse to comply with rulings under the open-records law. Status: Not moving in Senate. Deferred in House.

• SB3145: Broadens open-meetings law by allowing board members, department heads, the governor and other elected officials to meet privately under certain conditions. Status: Not moving.

• HB2404: Allows two or more members of a board, but not enough to make up a quorum, to discuss their individual opinions on issues under certain conditions. Status: Passed in House. Pending in Senate.

• SB2657: Establishes a five-member board of information practices appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The board would oversee the OIP and would have the power to hire and fire the OIP executive director. Status: Not moving.

• SB1551: Requires the governor to choose the OIP executive director from two nominees selected by the judicial council for a six-year term. Enhances OIP enforcement power. Status: Passed the Senate last session. Not moving in House.

• SB2561: Increases state spending for the OIP. Status: Not moving.

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With most of the bills relating to open government failing at the state Legislature, the chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee is calling for a task force that would study the state's sunshine law and make recommendations to lawmakers before session next year.

State Rep. Sylvia Luke, D-26th (Punchbowl, Pacific Heights, Nu'uanu Valley), said the task force would look at whether the law is living up to its intent and whether it should be revised or expanded.

"What I would like to do is start a conversation about what the sunshine law is," Luke said.

Advocates for open government persuaded Luke to postpone a hearing today on the task-force bill for a week after complaining they did not have time to review the bill. Public notice for the hearing was given last Friday, but advocates said they could not see a copy of the bill until Luke made it available at her office yesterday morning.

Luke agreed to delay the hearing until March 21.

"It was a concern that a bill about the sunshine law did not have any sunshine," said William E. Woods-Bateman, the chairman of the Kalihi Valley Neighborhood Board who is active in open-government issues. "You really didn't have any right and ability to review it."

Other advocates are concerned that the task force language was swapped into a Senate bill that would bar lobbyists from making political donations to lawmakers during session. Luke explained that the restrictions on lobbyists are still alive in the Senate and would be heard in a Senate and House conference committee if the bills advance.

The task force would be made up of representatives from the county councils, the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the state Board of Education, the University of Hawai'i Board of Regents, the state office that oversees charter schools, appointees from the House and Senate leadership and the governor's office, and the director of the state Office of Information Practices.

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com.