The Sunshine Blog: It's Getting To Be Crunch Time At The Capitol - Honolulu Civil Beat

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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.

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

There’s just a week to go until some pretty important sunshine bills will be dead if they don’t get heard in committee. Now’s the time to send messages to your lawmakers and specific committee chairs demanding that they get scheduled.

Most of these bills must be heard by April 5 or April 6 — next Wednesday for single referral bills or Thursday for others. So here is the contact info for your lawmakers in case you want to start emailing or calling now.

At the top of the list of reforms lawmakers just can’t seem to come to grips with is banning the flow of cash to their campaigns during the legislative session. Last year, they eliminated fundraising events during session and this year the Campaign Spending Commission and the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct each submitted proposals to stop all contributions during session.

Both House Bill 726 and House Bill 89 passed the House unanimously and have been awaiting a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee. In fact, HB 89 has been waiting since Feb. 9 and HB 726 since March 9. Time to let Chair Karl Rhoads know to get them moving.

Along the same line is Senate Bill 1493, which bans contributions from lobbyists during session as well as just before and just after session. But everyone else can still write those checks as much as they want. This bill passed both chambers but is headed for conference committee because of amendments.

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Campaign finance reform advocates have been trying to tighten the flow of money from government contractors to lawmakers for a few years, and this year House Bill 724 and Senate Bill 201 are the vehicles to do just that. Both would prohibit contributions from owners, officers and immediate family members of companies that have state or county contracts. The bills also put a similar ban on organizations that receive grants-in-aid from the state and counties.

HB 724 has passed both chambers but has been amended, so its fate will be decided in conference committee later in April. SB 201 was passed by the Senate but languishes in the House, awaiting a Finance Committee hearing.

The Campaign Spending Commission is particularly interested in bills that increase penalties on super PACs that misbehave. House Bill 92 is scheduled for a hearing Thursday morning in Senate Judiciary so if you’re going to reach out to Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads on other bills put in a good word for that one. Its companion, Senate Bill 197, appears stuck in the House awaiting a Finance Committee hearing.

Another message to give Rhoads: House Bill 1294 that requires candidates to use their legal names for election purposes is a no-brainer. People need to know who they are voting for. Senate Judiciary has already heard the measure but has not made a decision on it. It has until next week to do so.

Senate Bill 1543, which would set up a new program providing substantial public finance for candidates for state and county offices, is awaiting a hearing in the House Finance Committee. That means it’s time to send a message to FIN Chair Kyle Yamashita to nudge him to act on the measure that has been one of the most talked about of the session. It’s important because the bill that would have beefed up the existing partial public financing system is already dead.

Election illustration of Hawaii capitol building
Many sunshine bills need the public to push to make sure they get through. It’s time to call your lawmakers. (Kalany Omengkar/Civil Beat/2022)

And a bill that seemed at the beginning of session to be in for pretty smooth sailing may be in danger of being torpedoed by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, the chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. House Bill 719 is the measure that would cap the fees charged by agencies for public records requests and would waive fees altogether for requests made in the public interest, such as those that come from civic groups, many nonprofits and the media.

Last year, a similar bill was approved unanimously by lawmakers — including Dela Cruz — only to be vetoed by then-Gov. David Ige. Gov. Josh Green has said he will sign the bill if it gets to him this year.

HB 719 was moving easily through the Legislature all session but is now awaiting a joint hearing by Senate Judiciary and WAM. The bill will die if either chair declines to give it a hearing. And it’s unlikely we’ll know which one killed it.

Here’s a clue: Last week, Dela Cruz submitted his own public records request to the governor’s office seeking any communications to the governor or his staff on HB 719 and any communications from the governor’s office to state agencies about HB 719. That’s not something Dela Cruz was concerned about last year so what’s up this session?

A few important bills are already headed for conference committee and we all know that anything could happen there. The problem is we likely won’t know who killed what and why because conference committees operate in secret.

The bills that appear destined for those closed-door negotiations include House Bill 717 that tries to crack down on nepotism, House Bill 141 that requires lawmakers to disclose financial relationships with lobbyists, and a couple of bills (House Bill 707 and House Bill 711) that make government corruption (false claims, fraud) felonies and would prohibit people convicted of those offenses from holding elective office for 10 years. It’s worth letting legislative leadership — House Speaker Scott Saiki and Senate President Ron Kouchi — know what you think.

And some good news for sunshine bills. House Bill 823, which would require the state Department of Public Safety to make public the deaths of prisoners at its facilities as well as the deaths of correctional staff, is headed for the governor’s desk.

House Speaker Scott Saiki, left, and Senate President Ron Kouchi need to hear from you about accountability and transparency measures that have yet to be finalized. Conference committees are looming for some. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Message in a battle: How’s your own fight for government accountability and transparency going?

If you’re one of those who has been contacting your lawmaker or the governor about sunshine bills or other legislation this session, we’d love to hear what sort of response you’re getting. Are lawmakers listening?

Please send any messages you’re comfortable sharing to We might reprint some of them in future Sunshine Blogs so let us know if that’s OK. If you’re OK sharing the response but don’t want your name used, that’s OK too. Just let us know.

Read this next:

Hawaii Democrats Believe In Public Financing For Elections

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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)

You know I'd really like to see a legislator go ahead and wear a wire to some of these closed door sessions, and then provide the audio to CB... anonymously of course. That might break into the sunshine laws a bit if the public knew what was going on behind those closed doors.

Scotty_Poppins · 8 months ago

Do some States have laws that Conference Committees can not operate in secret?...or is that the norm?

Kalama · 8 months ago

why is a WAM chair messing with the JUD Chairs??? especially on ethics reform! Leave it to the lawyer with integrity

takashima96786 · 8 months ago

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