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The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration Feb. 24, 2022, by the House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs.
To: House Committee on Judiciary & Hawaiian Affairs
Rep. Mark M. Nakashima, Chair
Rep. Scot Z. Matayoshi, Vice Chair
From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
Joe Kent, Executive Vice President
RE: HB2303 HD1 — RELATING TO THE UNIFORM INFORMATION PRACTICES ACT
Dear Chair and Committee Members:
The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on HB2303 HD1, which would exempt “drafts, internal memoranda and correspondence, and other deliberative and pre-decisional materials that are a direct part of an agency’s internal decision-making process” from Hawaii’s open records law, the Uniform Information Practices Act.
We have grave concerns about this bill, which would create a loophole by which state agencies could evade records requests.
HB2303 HD1 would frustrate the intent of the state’s transparency laws intended to ensure accountability and discourage corruption by making government actions and deliberations available to the public.
As a research and government watchdog organization, the Grassroot Institute is well-acquainted with the mechanisms employed by government agencies to avoid disclosure. Based on that experience, we can attest to the fact that the exception created by this bill is ripe for abuse and would give agencies leeway to withhold nearly anything under the claim of “deliberative process.” Moreover, it would encourage agencies to conduct key government functions in a way that could shield them from disclosure.
There is a minor effort to limit this deliberative exception, but the language of the bill is vague in its attempt to balance government agency interest against public disclosure, almost suggesting that the two interests are equal.
If government agencies are concerned about privacy or disclosures that obstruct their ability to carry out their duties, there already are exceptions in the law that would address such issues.
Given the need to restore public trust in Hawaii’s government, we believe that more transparency, not less, is the best route forward.
Under the circumstances, it would be a mistake to create a UIPA exception that would allow government agencies to hide their decision-making process from the public.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments.
Executive Vice President
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii