Keli’i Akina, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii president, says terminating the suspension of the state’s open-records law was “long overdue”
HONOLULU, August 8, 2021 >> The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii commended Gov. David Ige today for reinstating Hawaii’s Uniform Information Practices Act, after suspending the transparency law, in whole or in part, for more than a year.
The governor’s newest proclamation, issued Aug. 5, marked the end of the suspension of Chapter 92F — though Chapter 92 HRS, relating to open public meetings, remains suspended “to the extent necessary to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 and its variants.”
The governor’s statement indicated that the intent of the proclamation is to allow boards and commissions to meet remotely while still complying with the state sunshine laws.
Ige shocked government watchdog groups in Hawaii when one of his earliest COVID-19 emergency orders suspended the state’s open-records and open-meetings laws — something no other state had done. Such groups, including the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, protested the loss of government transparency and urged the governor to reconsider.
He responded by issuing new open-meetings guidance and partially reinstating the UIPA, though agencies were not held to deadlines and other time limits for compliance. Since then, public interest groups and members of the media have had difficulty obtaining government documents in a timely manner, if at all.
Institute President and CEO Keli’i Akina praised the governor for reinstating transparency, but lamented that it took so long.
“Gov. Ige has done well to restore the UIPA,” he said. “After more than a year with limited government transparency, this is long overdue, and we must ask why the state was so slow to restore the public’s right-to-know.”
The UIPA, he said, “contains common-sense safeguards when an agency is overwhelmed or needs extra time to deal with an emergency. There was no need to suspend it to begin with, and no need for that suspension to last as long as it did.”
Akina said suspending the state’s sunshine and transparency laws sent the wrong message to the public, especially during an emergency when building public trust was more important than ever.
“If anything,” he said, “the COVID-19 emergency called for greater government openness, not less.”
Akina said the experience highlights the need for Hawaii legislators to reform the state’s emergency powers law, through legislation similar to HB103, which unfortunately failed at the last moment in the 2021 legislative session.
“Even in an emergency, the governor should not be permitted to suspend laws like the UIPA without demonstrating a clear and narrowly tailored rationale between the emergency and the suspension.” Akina said. “Moreover, that suspension should not last longer than absolutely necessary. Sunshine and transparency especially should not have to wait on the convenience of the government.”