The Hawaii Legislature passed an extension of the shield law but failed to act on any other open government measures this session.

Some proposed more openness, adding definitions to campaign finance disclosure laws and fines for agencies that fail to comply with open records law, for example.

But lawmakers also introduced several measures that sought to put limits on the public’s right to know. One bill would have limited free speech, others proposed hiding public workers’ and police officers’ salaries.

Out of the 16 open government bills we watched this session, the sole survivor was the shield law, allowing reporters in Hawaii to maintain the confidentiality of their sources in most cases.

But even the shield law was not made permanent as originally intended. Instead, it was extended for two years in order to give the Hawaii Judiciary time to study the issue.

Limiting Free Speech

Among the more radical ideas floated by legislators this year was House Bill 548, which sought to restrict a person’s First Amendment rights.

The real goal of the bill was to get one guidebook publisher to stop encouraging tourists to go to dangerous scenic spots on private property. So lawmakers introduced a bill that proposed punishing all publishers and holding them liable for tourists’ actions.

The House even proposed making websites and Twitter users liable, too.

The bill died, but it had in part the effect the backers intended: They got the publisher in question to come to the table and agree to change his approach.

Making Public Information Private

Efforts to put large swaths of public information behind a wall also died. One proposal that has come up year after year without success was a proposal to remove real property tax data from the public record.

And after Civil Beat published the names and salaries of state and city employees, lawmakers introduced three bills that would have changed the open records law, making private the names and salaries of those workers. But those bills, along with two others that would have affected which names of police officers should remain secret all died in committee. The Honolulu Police Department remains the sole city agency that has not complied with the law and fulfilled Civil Beat’s request for the names, job titles and salaries of its employees.

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