The Sunshine Blog: Can It Be That Hard To Put Together A Voters Guide? - Honolulu Civil Beat

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The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair and Richard Wiens.

Short takes, outtakes, observations and other stuff you should know about public information, government accountability and ethical leadership in Hawaii.

A no-brainer: There’s still hope that the Legislature will take the long overdue step this session of requiring voter information guides to be produced for Hawaii elections.

In fact, a measure do just that, Senate Bill 1076, has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and is scheduled for decision-making by the Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.

The islands traditionally have low voter turnout, so it makes no sense that Hawaii hasn’t joined every other Pacific state from Alaska to California in producing a guide — at least online — that includes candidates’ statements and arguments for and against ballot measures.

image from Alaska's official elections pamphlet of 2002
From the cover of Alaska’s 2002 elections pamphlet.

Creating such a guide was one of the reform proposals of the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct. But its measure to do so, House Bill 716, got shot down without even a Judiciary Committee vote after the committee received written testimony from the Office of Elections, the Attorney General’s Office and the Legislative Reference Bureau voicing various worries, including increased workloads and liability.

The AG Office’s concerns were especially funny — equal parts humorous and peculiar. The House bill would have tasked the office with helping to write the arguments for and against statewide ballot measures. If the resulting wording got the state sued, the office said it might have a conflict of interest in legally defending the state.

Based on that concern, shouldn’t the AG’s Office refrain from doing anything for the state that might get it sued?

The still-alive SB 1076 also would require the AG to draft “a clear and concise explanation” of each proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. But for some reason, the office hasn’t submitted any written testimony on this one — so far.

It’s enough to make you wonder how so many other states have been successfully producing voters guides for decades.

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Senate reins in lobbyists: The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted unanimously to ban campaign donations from lobbyists during legislative sessions. The ban, proposed under Senate Bill 1493, would also cover five-day periods immediately before the start of each legislative session and after the Legislature adjourns. The ban would apply to contributions to all elected officials, not just legislators, and candidates for political office as well.

No one showed up to testify on SB 1493, but the written testimony was all in support. Sen. Karl Rhoads didn’t make any changes to the substance of SB 1493, but put in what’s called a defective date of March 22, 2075. Putting in bad effective dates, as legislators call them, ensures that bills end up in conference committee at the end of the legislative session.

“I’d like to include this in the mix at the end of session for whatever ethics and campaign spending bills might still be in play,” Rhoads said shortly before the vote.

SB 1493 is now teed up for a vote by the full Senate. The House already passed a bill that would ban all donations during legislative sessions, including those from lobbyists, earlier this year.

First Amendment versus first responders: A bill that would take away from Hawaii governors and county mayors the authority to suspend “electronic media transmission” — radio and television broadcasts along with text messages, emails and posts to social media — has been gaining traction at the Legislature this year.

The authors of House Bill 522 worry that the current law is overly broad and vague. They argue that suspension could restrain free speech and the press.

But the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency doesn’t like HB 522. James Barros, the HI-EMA administrator, is worried that limiting emergency powers might endanger people including first responders. He also warns that electronic transmissions could “trigger an explosive device or ignite volatile chemicals” and wants the authority to shut them down.

But groups such as the Hawaii County Council, the Hawaii Association of Broadcasters, Hawaii News Now, the Big Island Press Club and the Hawaii Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists strongly back HB 522. To them, it’s about being able to communicate important information to the people calmly and safely during natural disasters such as the Kilauea volcanic eruption in 2018 and public health crises of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Brian Black, executive director of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, questions the constitutionality of the “purported authority” of a governor or mayor to suspend electronic transmissions. The public, he says, has “its right to listen to, electronic media under the First Amendment.”

HB 522 passed the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee unanimously and unamended Friday afternoon. It has a Senate companion, but that bill never received a hearing.

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About the Author

The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair and Richard Wiens.

Latest Comments (0)

I read the testimony for HB716, which was deferred. It was interesting to read the testimony of the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB). LRB testified that in 1997 the Legislature passed Act 173 which, among other things, required the LRB to interpret measures "requiring a vote by the electorate" and to submit a summary, factsheet and digest sharing the purpose and intent of the proposed constitutional amendment, ramifications of the proposed amendment, and arguments for and against ratification. In 2002, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Office of Elections and LRB arguing that voter educational material prepared by LRB regarding a proposed constitutional amendment was "factually incorrect, misleading, and prevented an informed and deliberate vote by the plaintiffs and the electorate." The requirement for LRB to assist in preparing voter education materials was later repealed.Given the above, it's not unreasonable to anticipate similar litigation and challenges against the State if LRB or the AG's office were to publish and author a similar guidebook with arguments for or against potential constitutional amendments.

justaguy · 7 months ago

Best local political reporting anywhere! Thanks for the time and research you put in.

Scotty_Poppins · 7 months ago

Of course Hawaii can produce a voter education guide. Our elected officials should help voters learn more about candidates, the meaning of ballot questions and the pros/cons of each such question.Elections are the main way voter hold elected officials accountable for their performance in office. This is why such education was recommended by the "Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct."Campaigning for office and voter education are not the same thing - different purposes, and different sponsors. Let's move forward on this.

JanetMason · 7 months ago

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