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SB2639: Enforcement provision would strengthen sunshine law

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Senate Committee on Government Operations on Feb. 6, 2024.
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Feb. 6,  2024, 3:10 p.m.
Hawaii State Capitol
Conference Room 225 and Videoconference

To: Senate Committee on Government Operations
      Sen. Angus L.K. McKelvey, Chair
      Sen. Mike Gabbard, Vice-Chair

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

COMMENTS IN SUPPORT OF SB2639 — RELATING TO PUBLIC AGENCY MEETINGS

Aloha Chair McKelvey, Vice-Chair Gabbard and Committee Members,

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments in support of SB2639, which would strengthen enforcement of Hawaii’s open meetings law by clarifying that individuals may bring a lawsuit against a board after receiving an adverse opinion from the Office of Information Practice — and that the court must hear a challenge de novo — meaning without reference to any legal conclusion or assumption made by the OIP.

Systemic corruption continues to be an issue in our state, with some observers noting that our “go along to get along” culture, entrenched bureaucracy and lack of political diversity contribute to the problem.[1]

Corruption does not have to be criminal — or even intentional — to have a negative effect on public trust. Hawaii’s high level of voter apathy is testimony to the public’s lack of faith in its political leadership.[2]

There is no one-stop solution to the problem of corruption in our state, but one of the most important correctives is sunlight. We need greater transparency at all levels of government.

Moreover, it is not enough to enact rules requiring public meetings and open records. There must be an effective way to ensure that state boards and agencies comply with those rules.

By creating a stronger enforcement provision for Hawaii’s open meetings law, this bill would improve transparency in government. The added requirement that courts must hear challenges to an OIP decision de novo will help ensure that the intent of this law is not frustrated by excess deference to a previous OIP opinion.

In summary, SB2639 has the potential to improve Hawaii’s sunshine law and improve public trust in government.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Ted Kefalas

Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
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[1] Randall Roth, “Public Corruption in the Land of Aloha,” Honolulu Civil Beat, Dec. 24, 2023.
[2] Dan Nakaso, “Voter apathy reaches record in Hawaii’s general election,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Nov. 12, 2022.

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