The Sunshine Blog: OIP Delays Are Worse Than Ever - 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.

Information delayed is information denied: The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest’s latest review of public records denials that have been appealed to the Office of Information Practices is in and things have gotten worse in the past year. It’s now taking OIP director Cheryl Park and her staff more than three years to decide whether documents should be made available after an agency has denied a request.

“When lawsuits are faster, OIP is no longer serving the role that the Legislature intended for OIP to be an ‘expeditious’ place to resolve disputes about public records and open meetings,” the law center says on its website.

Some telling stats from the latest report:

In 2022, it took OIP on average 795 days to reach a decision on cases brought to it by members of the public who had hoped to get their public records, well, much sooner. That was up from 418 days in 2021.

And yet, OIP issued an average of 51 decisions in 2022, virtually the same number it issued in 2021 (52) and 2020 (55).

Is anyone else wondering why even bother asking OIP for help in getting records released?

You can find the last five years of the law center’s review of OIP here.

Don’t forget our Sunshine Tracker: Want to quickly check the status of sunshine bills at the Hawaii Legislature? Our bill tracker is the place to go. It’s updated on a daily basis, and it’s a handy way to see how these bills are progressing — or not progressing at all.

For instance, if you use the sorting tool we provide to search by bill status, you will find (as of Tuesday midday) that five of the 31 measures proposed by the House Commission on Standards of Conduct were already deferred — i.e., killed — this session. They include House Bill 716, which called for a voter information guide, something that is popular in states like Alaska, Oregon and California. That’s a shame, as Hawaii voters need all the help they can get to understand our elections.

Here’s an excerpt from Civil Beat’s easy-to-use bill tracker for Sunshine legislation. There are currently over 200 bills and resolutions in the tracker, which is updated regularly.

But many of the other Foley commission bills (named for retired Judge Dan Foley, who chaired the commission) are advancing, at least in the House. The same goes for dozens of other Sunshine bills introduced by lawmakers, state agencies and others. The subject matter of the legislation includes lobbying reform, enhanced campaign finance reporting, establishing a class C felony offense of official misconduct and public financing of elections.

Whether the reform effort continues to make progress remains to be seen. So far, the Senate hasn’t shown much interest.

House Judiciary has a full plate of sunshine today: This is a critical day for a slew of Foley commission bills and other measures pertaining to government reform. Just a week ago it looked like only one of the 31 measures from the commission was poised to stay alive at the Legislature. Late Friday, however — a major cutoff point for bills to stay afloat called First Lateral — approximately 16 Foley bills were suddenly scheduled for a hearing that happens today.

Bills to be heard include House Bill 706, which would require all members of the Legislature to disclose “certain” relationships with lobbyists or lobbying organizations in their financial disclosures. There is also House Bill 717, which seeks to tighten nepotism rules such as restricting legislators and state employees from hiring or promoting relatives and household members, and from participating in awarding a contract to relatives or household members.

Here’s the link to the hearing agenda, which is set for 2 p.m., and information on how to watch it online if you don’t want to stress over Capitol parking.

But wait! There’s more! On Tuesday another hearing was scheduled in Rep. David Tarnas’ Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, this one will be Thursday afternoon. Its agenda includes another half-dozen Foley commission bills. One is House Bill 727, which would limit the permitted uses of campaign funds to only purposes directly related to the campaigns of candidates.

For these folks keeping track — folks like us! — this means that 23 of the 31 Foley commission proposals are getting the attention of lawmakers in the House. Will the Senate follow suit? That’s the big question.

It’s time to contact your lawmakers and tell them to keep the momentum going!

Get those term limits surveys in: Should state legislators be subject to term limits, like most other elected officials in Hawaii?

Some people consider such limits to be a lynchpin to reform, reasoning that the power of incumbency currently prevents the kind of turnover that would bring fresh thinking to the Legislature. Others say it would unfairly strip voters of the right to decide for themselves if they want to keep their leaders in the Senate and House.

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But many lawmakers haven’t publicly stated any opinion, which is why on Feb. 13 we emailed a short survey to all 76 senators and representatives, explaining, “No matter how the issue plays out during the 2023 session, we feel the public has a right to know where all legislators stand.”

So far, we have 11 responses.

Ironically, one of those came from the legislator who just made it possible for his colleagues to avoid the issue. In his role as chair of the House Judiciary & Hawaiian Affairs Committee, Rep. David Tarnas single-handedly killed a term limits measure without holding a committee vote.

So we already knew where he stood, but his response is still appreciated. Others have come from senators Brenton Awa and Les Ihara and representatives Bertrand Kobayashi, Diamond Garcia, Amy Perruso, Lia Marten, Elijah Pierick, Terez Amato, Jackson Sayama and Andrew Garrett.

Here’s hoping the silent treatment won’t continue from the rest of the Legislature. Help us out by contacting your lawmaker and telling them to return our survey. Please.

Read this next:

The Sunshine Blog: Bills And More Bills, Public Cash For Campaigns, And A Weird Email

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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)

CB, You note the bill, 716, authorizing a voter guide was deferred/killed.BUT, SB1076 and HB1476 are still alive; UNTIL TUESDAY. WHAT THEY SAY (re Candidates);The office of elections shall prepare, and post on it's website, a digital voter information guide; A photograph and short statement of less than one hundred fifty words for each candidate running for public office, to be prepared by the candidate. The office of elections shall print and mail a physical copy of the digital voter information guide to any voter upon request. WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT; SB1076 and HB1476 HACK AT THE NEED FOR MONEY TO CAMPAIGN!!...A VOTER CAN GO ON THE OFFICE OF ELECTIONS WEBSITE AND LEARN THE CANDIDATE'S ISSUE POSITIONS. Now candidates would be incentivised to work....dig, talk story, research; come up with solutions. Then pack you 150 word spot with your ideas and your website. We frustrated voters going to check out your ideas. We don't care who is endorsing you. We care if you have some decent work on our problems to show us. You can submit testimony re SB1076 to Sen. Dela Cruz BEFORE MONDAY. 10 AM.

trouble_ahead · 6 months ago

Another commenter had asked about the budget and staffing for OIP. I think this would be good to know in order to evaluate if more resources may assist them in better meeting requests in a timely fashion. Many of our state agencies are critically under resourced. If we do not acknowledge this and look at how to increase resources to meet public need, things may never get better. Additionally, there was an article recently about FOIA and the delays in getting requested information from the Navy. Interestingly, the Civil Beat Public Law Center has been advocating for the state's UIPA to more closely mirror FOIA in certain aspects. In listening to testimony from OIP, a concern they voiced is that mirroring FOIA may actually have the unintended impact of slowing down the process. OIP mentioned that federal agencies often take years to release requested information. The recent example about the FOIA request from the Navy seems to illustrate this.I respect Civil Beat's efforts to push more greater public transparency, but not sure we are being given the full picture of what is going on and what levers would result in the greater access to information that is desired.

justaguy · 7 months ago

When OIP is delayed in its disclosures, it limits the rights of citizens affected negatively by a state agency or individual due to a lack of timely access to evidence. Ex: CB has pursued public disclosure of information that, without subsequent lawsuits, took the state 7 years to disclose. Once disclosed, it revealed hostile work environments, politically motivated audit reports, and complicit "hiding" of information by elected officials. Shame.Timely responses to OIP requests insures that citizens can contemplate actions to these grievances and not be limited by the statute of limitations which lapses beyond 2-3 years. Perhaps that is the objective of the delays? Risk avoidance by government?Citizen engagement in government action is enabled through checks and balances. Maintaining a commitment to timely releases by OIP is one such balance tool.Shifting risk to the public and away from government disclosures casts a tone of "shady" .

Jessie_3333 · 7 months ago

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