The Sunshine Blog: Secret Documents, Sunshine Cafe, Lawmakers' Salaries - 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.

The public dodges a bullet: A proposal that would have undermined a major Hawaii Supreme Court decision on public records has died a quiet death. Senate Bill 720 and its companion, House Bill 1158, failed to get necessary hearings before a key legislative deadline last week.

In 2018, the state’s highest court overturned 30 years of bad public records policy when it invalidated the so-called “deliberative process privilege” that had allowed government agencies to keep secret various draft documents and other material that showed what state and local officials were basing important decisions on.

In 2015, Civil Beat sued to get access to budget documents used to craft Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s spending plan for fiscal year 2016. Three years later, the high court ordered the city to make them available.

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The Office of Information Practices grudgingly began to require agencies to turn over “pre-decisional” records when asked. But every year since, the OIP led by director Cheryl Park, has tried to get the Legislature to go against the Supreme Court. Last year the office that is supposed to be a champion of public records succeeded in getting lawmakers to cobble together a working group to come up with a proposal that would reinstate at least some of the government’s ability to keep things secret.

Some of the records in question included consultants’ reports, revenue estimates for proposed legislation, evaluations of an agency’s overall performance, forecasts of general fund tax revenues and even audit recommendations.

Not surprisingly, a number of government officials supported the working group’s recommendation while good-government organizations did not.

SB 720 passed the Senate Government Operations Committee earlier in the session, but Senate Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads declined to hear it. Ditto for House Judiciary Chair David Tarnas.

Sen Karl Rhoads speaks during Civil Cafe held at the Captiol.
Our hero, Sen. Karl Rhoads, left, speaks during a Civil Cafe held at the State Capitol in 2019. He’s scheduled to be at another Civil Cafe on Wednesday. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019)

Sunshine status update: You can thank those two in person on Wednesday at our Civil Cafe on “The Sunshine Bills,” hosted by Politics and Opinion Editor Chad Blair. Besides Tarnas and Rhoads, he’ll be joined by state Ethics Commission Executive Director Robert Harris and Kristin Izumi-Nitao, executive director of the Campaign Spending Commission.

The program begins at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the State Capitol Auditorium. Click here to reserve your spot or make sure a link to the video is sent your way later.

It’s free. Please come. It’s important to show your support for government reform, transparency and accountability.

In case you were wondering: A reader kindly sent us this very cool chart of Hawaii legislative salaries dating back to 1967 and showing pay that has been approved for the next couple years. The state Commission on Salaries is slated to convene again next year to consider future pay for lawmakers and others.

It’s this commission that sets salaries, by the way, not the legislators themselves.

Read this next:

Government Reform Is Happening At The Legislature

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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)

Thank you for posting the legislative salary tables. What an eye-opener! Since the mid-1980s to now, salaries have increased nearly five-fold (from $15,656 to $74,160). I realize that the work load has increased greatly and the notion of being a "part-time legislator" is outdated for many of them. Nonetheless, they are free to maintain private sector employment when the leg is not in session--and many of them do. I can't help but think that many of your readers (like me) would be happy to earn $74,000 for one full-time job over 12 months, much less be able to bring down a second salary that is at least that or more.

MsW · 6 months ago

There is an irony with a public money paid person producing bills to reduce public knowledge of public departments operations and deliberations. It’s like people do not know who they are actually working for? Or ‘we’ are too removed to be able to understand their processes? So a department will make sure ‘we’ just cannot in future.

Augustus · 6 months ago

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