SB767: Measure would help ensure open records during times of crisis

The following testimony was presented Feb. 10, 2023, by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

February 10, 2022
9:35 a.m.
Conference Room 016

To: Senate Committee on Judiciary
Senator Karl Rhoads, Chair
Senator Mike Gabbard, Vice Chair

From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
Ted Kefalas, Director of Strategic Campaigns


Comments Only

Dear Chair and Committee Members:

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on SB767, which would prohibit the governor or mayor from suspending requests for public records or vital statistics during a declared state of emergency while maintaining flexibility for agencies to delay their response to a request due to extenuating circumstances.

Transparency is the best way to ensure accountability in governance. This bill makes it clear that the government’s responsibility to the people does not take a hiatus during an emergency.

Anyone concerned that this proposal would hinder government agencies from carrying out their duties in an emergency need not worry. Hawaii’s open-records statute already provide flexibility to agencies that require additional time to respond, and this bill reinforces that provision by expressly giving agencies permission to delay a response under extenuating circumstances.

With this language in place, any suspension of open-records laws by the governor or mayors would be unnecessary and redundant.

At the outset of the COVID-19 emergency, Gov. David Ige suspended Hawaii’s open-records and sunshine laws — an extreme response not taken by any other state governor.

Not only did his action raise questions about the health rationale for the suspension, it also undermined public trust in the workings of government at a time when trust was needed most.

In the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii’s policy brief “Lockdowns Versus Liberty,” we looked at how Hawaii’s emergency-management law could be reformed in light of the lessons learned during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

One of the points made was that government transparency is even more important in times of emergency, since a lack of accurate information about government decision-making can lead to a loss of public trust.

Open government is not only at the core of our constitutional principles, it is also essential to uphold public faith in the decision-making of our leaders and the democratic process.

We understand that Hawaii’s governor needs leeway to handle an emergency as needed, but he or she should not have carte blanche to suspend laws merely because they are inconvenient.

Instead, government actions during an emergency should be narrowly tailored to demonstrate a connection between the actions and the protection of public health or safety.

Hawaii’s experience with emergency rule has raised important questions about the scope of executive power under the state’s emergency-management statute. This bill, if enacted, would be a good start toward protecting civil rights and open government during an emergency.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments.


Ted Kefalas
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

Subscribe to our free newsletter!

Get updates on what we're doing to make Hawaii affordable for everyone.
Want more?

Get content like this delivered straight to your inbox. We’ll also send updates on what we’re doing to make Hawaii affordable for everyone.

Recent Posts