Lift The Suspension Of Hawaii's Public Records Law - Honolulu Civil Beat


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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell, Julia Steele, Lee Cataluna and Kim Gamel. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


Hawaii Gov. David Ige has issued 16 emergency proclamations since March in response to COVID-19.

Another is expected next week, when the governor plans to reduce from 14 days to 10 the time that travelers coming from out-of-state must spend in quarantine.

There is little disagreement over the fact that our islands are suffering from intertwined economic and health crises. Many of the actions taken by the Ige administration have been, while at times very difficult, often understandable and necessary.

But the suspension of Hawaii’s Uniform Information Practices Act, which came in Ige’s supplemental proclamation of March 16, does not meet that standard.

In fact, it is a disservice to the people of Hawaii at a time when many of us are clamoring for more information from our government about the pandemic and the state’s response to it.

Ige needs to end the UIPA suspension, which is currently in force until Dec. 31. It should not be extended again.

Governor David Ige removes his mask before speaking at the contact tracing press conference held at the Hawaii Convention Center. August 19, 2020

Gov. David Ige should end his suspension of the state’s public records law.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Hawaii’s open records law, which along with the state’s open meetings law (known as the Sunshine Law), are the legal foundations that allow the media and the public to better understand how public policy is formed and conducted.

The introduction of Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 92F — the UIPA law — explains that the Legislature declared “the discussions, deliberations, decisions, and action of governmental agencies – shall be conducted as openly as possible.”

To that end, the law further explains, it is in “the public interest” to promote and provide for timely and accurate access to government records.

That interest is recognized by no less an authority than the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1978 recognized that the purpose of the federal Freedom of Information Act — known as FOIA — “is to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society.”

There should be no delay in lifting the suspension of the UIPA, Hawaii’s version of FOIA. As the nonprofit, nonpartisan National Freedom of Information Coalition posted on Nov. 24, “From Africa to Latin America to Europe, the coronavirus pandemic has generated a surge in public demand for government transparency and accountability.”

And as the pro bono legal group Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press correctly argues, “The COVID-19 pandemic is not a reason for government agencies to stop accepting or processing records requests.”

HPD Honolulu Police officers move an ATV Quad/ 4 wheeler outside the Waikiki Substation.

HPD won’t say how much overtime officers have racked up during the pandemic.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In May, the governor eased the UIPA suspension — deemed one of the most extreme anti-transparency measures taken by any U.S. governor in response to the pandemic — through a revised emergency proclamation, his seventh. State agencies can still delay responding to requests, but they have to at minimum acknowledge the request was made and not trash any related public documents.

And yet, there are indications that local agencies have used Ige’s suspension to slow-walk responding to media requests.

Civil Beat reporter Christina Jedra earlier this month chronicled how ignoring multiple requests for information was becoming standard practice — even though the information “is important for you, the public, to know about how your government is operating and spending your tax dollars.”

Similar complaints have come from other news outlets, including The Associated Press.

We understand that complying with UIPA requests can take time and staff away from other tasks. But the agencies must act in good faith rather than behave as though the UIPA suspension somehow grants them immunity from complying with the law.

On a related and also critical matter, Ige suspended the Sunshine Law in March, while requiring that government boards consider “reasonable measures to allow public participation consistent with social distancing practices.”

While uneven in delivery, many government organizations have managed to accommodate public participation via Zoom and other videoconferencing systems. It remains a work in progress.

The Hawaii Office of Information Practices — the state agency whose mission is to administer the UIPA and Sunshine Law — is now proposing to amend the latter to allow boards to conduct these so-called “virtual” or remote meetings. OIP plans to submit the proposal as part of the governor’s 2021 legislative package next month.

It’s stunning that, 20 years into the 21st century, Hawaii law does not allow for interactive conference technology. The lack of accommodation is all the more glaring considering that we are a state of islands where many in remote communities cannot easily attend a legislative or agency hearing on Oahu, where the seat of government is located.

The bill, which is a good idea, would require most board members “to show their face on camera, to conduct roll call votes to make it easier for the public to see how members voted, and also requires meetings to be recorded and posted publicly if possible.”

But, in the public interest, let’s take it a step further: require meeting videoconferencing rather than just allow it.

OIP’s period for comment on the bill closed Dec. 2. (You can email OIP here.) But it is the Legislature that will hear the bill and needs to hear the public’s support for it.

Fittingly, with the pandemic likely continuing far into the new year, legislators will likely do so via videoconferencing.


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About the Author

Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell, Julia Steele, Lee Cataluna and Kim Gamel. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


Latest Comments (0)

How about sending an email to the governor and your legislators saying simply, "Lift the suspension of Hawaii's Public Records law." It might get some traction.

MW · 1 month ago

We have one party state led and staffed by the Hawaii Democrats who have never shown themselves keen on transparency or accountability.  It's up to we the people to demand it.

Sally · 1 month ago

To what end?  It will still be molasses slow, just less slow.  How about reinforcing the enforcement of...the law?

Ranger_MC · 1 month ago

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