Chad Blair: Dozens Of Sunshine Bills Survive Session’s Halfway Mark - Honolulu Civil Beat

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Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

But two-thirds of the more than 200 bills designed to restore trust in government or open up public information are probably dead.

Lawmakers on Tuesday made progress on addressing an old issue — the lack of reporting on inmate deaths — and a new one — redboxing, a sneaky political tactic.

Both bills, which passed from one chamber to the other, are part of 200-plus measures that comprise a slate of “sunshine” bills at the Hawaii Legislature. Civil Beat has been tracking the proposals intended (for the most part) to improve government ethics, accountability, campaigns, elections, transparency and operations.

As lawmakers reach midpoint of the 2023 session this week, nearly 140 of the sunshine bills have been deferred, meaning they are very likely dead for this year, barring the unexpected.

But one-third of them — around 70 in total, as of Tuesday — are still alive. Typically, only 10% of all bills make it through any given session.

Broadly speaking, the bills that are moving address revising campaign finance rules, lobbying reform, penalties for taking bribes and improving political participation. Many of the bills that stalled are duplicative of other legislation.

Much, much can happen between now and session’s end on May 4, and there remains skepticism in some quarters that lawmakers will deliver meaningful reform.

But the fact that an old issue and a new one have attracted the attention of legislators suggests that restoring public trust in government is an emerging priority.

Halawa prison guard near 'Main Street' as inmates traverse from modules to modules. file photograph from 2015 December.
Legislation calls for much greater public disclosure of inmate deaths in correctional facilities. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017)

House Bill 823 would expand reporting requirements for inmates and correctional employees that die while in custody at state correctional facilities. HB 823, which unanimously passed the Senate Tuesday and now heads to the House for its consideration, would also apply to facilities that contract with the state — namely, those currently housed in Arizona because Hawaii is over capacity.

If HB 823 becomes law, those deaths would have to be posted online a week after the Public Safety director reports the information to the governor and Legislature. The details — as long as they do not imperil an active criminal investigation or conflict with federal or state disclosure laws — would include the name, gender and age of the deceased, where and when they died, and from what causes.

The chief backer of the bill argues that “people deserve respect, they deserve answers with regard to their loved ones.”

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Redboxing is used by candidates to work around laws prohibiting coordination with political action committees. It involves candidates that design their campaign websites in a manner intended to solicit PACs to make political advertisements and other materials that benefit those candidates.

Patrick Branco, a state representative running against Jill Tokuda for a U.S. House seat last year, was criticized for encouraging outside groups to spend money in the race “by making it easy for PACs to build ads using images and opposition research talking points posted to his website.” Branco denied that he was coordinating with PACs.

On Tuesday, the House unanimously passed Senate Bill 1212, which would prohibit candidates and candidate committees from containing information or manipulating content designed to induce a noncandidate committee to use that content.

What’s Passing … For Now

Other sunshine bills passed unanimously by the Senate Tuesday would:

  • ban lobbyist donations to elected officials and candidates that have received more than $100 in contributions right before, during and right after session;
  • increase the post-employment restriction for former legislators doing business at the Legislature (read: lobbying) from 12 months to 24 months;
  • prohibit foreign nationals, foreign-influenced business entities and foreign corporations from making donations to candidates of electioneering on their behalf;
  • specify that a public servant convicted of bribery pay a fine of up to $250,000 in addition to a sentence of imprisonment or probation;
  • require the Office of Elections to prepare a digital voter information guide and to let voters know about the guide when they get their ballots; and
  • set up a comprehensive system of public financing for all candidates seeking election to state and county public offices beginning with the 2026 general election.

All of these measures passed unanimously, with the exception of that last one (Republican Kurt Fevella voted “no”). Similar mojo was in evidence on the House side, which passed the following bills on to the Senate. They would:

  • impose a cap on charges for the reproduction of government records, waive the cost of duplication of the records in electronic format and waive fees when the public interest is served;
  • prohibit state workers from hiring or promoting relatives and household members, from participating in other employment-related decisions and from awarding a contract if the employee’s relative or household member would benefit;
  • make it a class C felony to make false claims against the state or a county;
  • encourage boards (with the exception of licensing boards) to maintain recordings of meetings on website regardless of whether the written minutes of the meeting have been posted; and
  • forbid the publication of personal information of federal and state judges and staff whose duties put them at risk for acts of violence or threats.

That last bill saw its Senate companion killed just last week by a committee chair. It illustrates how the two chambers can be on divergent paths that could easily imperil bills in the two-week conference committee period that begins in mid-April.

Join us at Civil Beat’s event featuring Senate Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads, House Judiciary Chair David Tarnas, State Ethics Commission Director Robert Harris and Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission Director Kristin Izumi-Nitao.

The House on Tuesday also passed its own version of partial public financing available for all offices. Will the Senate even hear it, given that it has its own favored vehicle? These are the kinds of things that can break or make legislation.

But another significant bill passed by the House would amend the ban against contributions to a candidate or noncandidate committee by state and county contractors to include state and county grantees and the owners, officers and immediate family members of the contractor or grantee.

Another bill would require each state legislator to include within their financial interests disclosure the names of lobbyists with whom they have a relationship.

The House also advanced unanimously a bill that would require every candidate for public office in Hawaii to use their legal name for election purposes. A state House candidate on Oahu’s West Side last year ran under an alias, making it difficult to learn more about who he really was.

Thus far, it is the House that has taken the lead on many of the reform measures. While it offered some companions to the House versions of the Foley commission bills — the short hand for the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct — the Senate decided not to hear any of them and let the House take first crack.

The Senate also did not set up an independent commission to find ways to improve their conduct. But there is movement on a number of House bills already in the Senate.

On Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider 10 bills including one that would require candidates and noncandidate committees to file fundraiser notices regardless of the suggested price contribution.

Like many of the House bills that are advancing, these bills have a single committee referral, meaning they don’t have to receive multiple hearings.

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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

Latest Comments (0)

Aloha CB, Will we be able to watch the Civil Beat CIVIL CAFE 'The Sunshine Bills" discussion, on YouTube? The Hawaii Civil Beat channel? If not YouTube anyplace we can watch it? It would be fabulous. Nothing like some good content to attract a bunch of viewers and stimulate some thinking. Same dynamic that's up for discussion, yes? Anybody else out there interested, can't attend but would love to watch later? Warmest regards, trouble__ahead

trouble_ahead · 6 months ago

"two-thirds of the more than 200 bills designed to restore trust in government or open up public information are probably dead"That somewhat dims the sunshine and clouds the confidence in a more transparent state government."make it a class C felony to make false claims against the state or a county"If a citizen accuses the state of an illegal act, and state officials deny the claim, does the claim then become a "false claim"?

Joseppi · 6 months ago

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