The Sunshine Blog: A Bill Passes Out Of Conference, And Yes, We Have No Allowances - 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.

One person, one vote, one ballot: In case this wasn’t obvious before, lawmakers have made it clear that if you cast a ballot in Hawaii, you can’t vote on the mainland in the same election. Senate Bill 1541 makes that prohibition explicit.

Better yet, SB 1541 wins the award for being the first of 30-plus sunshine bills to survive conference committee — and it’ll do so without going to conference committee at all!

Maui County Building, voter box
You can only vote once per election, in case you didn’t know. (Bryan Berkowitz/Civil Beat/2020)

The full Senate decided Tuesday it can live with the bill’s House amendments, which House Judiciary Chair David Tarnas described as “technical, nonsubstantive amendments for the purposes of clarity, consistency, and style.”

That decision still must be finalized by senators Wednesday, but all the suspense is gone.

Introduced by Sens. Karl Rhoads and Gil Keith-Agaran, SB 1541 states that “existing law prohibits voters from voting again after having already voted. However, the law does not expressly address the possibility that a person could cast a single vote in Hawaii and an additional vote in another state or territory of the United States.”

The measure goes on to say that electoral double-dippers are committing election fraud.

The bigger problem remains, of course, all those registered voters who refuse to cast even one ballot. The islands suffer from consistently low voter turnout.

Show us the money: In early March the state Senate began posting legislative allowances for its 25 members online. The posting covered how the $15,952 yearly for each member looked as of Feb. 23. It’s supposed to be updated monthly.

So, what did senators spend their allowance money on in March? Can’t say. Only Sen. Glenn Wakai has a report dated for March, even though it doesn’t actually include spending anything at all in March.

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Wakai did fork out $54.29 to pay for a lunch meeting Feb. 28 with Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism Deputy Director Dane Wicker “to discuss DBEDT issues.” Oh, to be a fly on that wall!

The Senate communications staff did not respond to The Sunshine Blog’s inquiry Tuesday asking just how often the allowances would be posted. Shucks.

Legislation from the Hawaii State Ethics Commission requiring each house of the Legislature to post legislative allowances died this session because the Senate ended up posting theirs and the House said it was working on it.

The House told The Blog last month that it intended to post its legislative allowance expenditure reports … soon. On Tuesday, House comms director Cathy Lee passed along this update: “In the interest of transparency, the House will begin posting records of legislative allowance disbursements to the House webpage in the beginning of the fiscal year.”

That’s July 1. Double shucks.

“While legislative allowance expenditures are public records, access to this information is not easily accessible,” the commission’s executive director and general counsel Robert Harris wrote in his testimony favoring his own bill. “Increased transparency will help ensure greater public confidence in the use of state funds.”

Glad we didn’t have to show them this money: Reporters can tell a lot of stories about how ridiculous state agencies can be when it comes to creative ways to reject a public records request. Hardly any top the time in 2019 when the Department of Public Safety told Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporter Sophie Cocke it would cost her $1 million to get the release dates of inmates being held in state correctional facilities.

The reporter wanted to see how many prisoners were being held beyond their scheduled release date, a continuing problem that has been documented nationwide as well as in Hawaii.

DPS said it would take 187,000 hours of staff time to search its Offendertrak database and figure out when people were supposed to get released and if they were still in the system somewhere. Apparently, despite its name, the computer program was not very good at tracking offenders. Which seems to be the reason people are sometimes held longer — much longer — than they are supposed to be.

Cocke filed an appeal with the Office of Information Practices. Now, fours years later (have we mentioned that OIP is slow as molasses when it comes to reviewing appeals and issuing an opinion) the state public information agency says DPS should only have charged the reporter $290 for that information, which is the estimate DPS came up with after she appealed to OIP and if Cocke agreed that the information provided by DPS may not be accurate.

From $1 million to $290. Wow.

There’s been a lot of talk this legislative session about House Bill 719, which would cap fees charged for public records. And a request like Cocke’s, made in the public interest, would be done for free.

Some state agencies have fought the reduction in fees for a couple years — a similar bill passed the Legislature last year only to be vetoed by then-Gov. David Ige who bowed to pressure from agencies who claimed search and redaction costs would be overwhelming.

Read OIP’s opinion here.

Read this next:

The Sunshine Blog: Mum's The Word, Heavy-Hitters Back Public Campaign Funding, And The Latest On Conference

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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)

Wow, hard to believe this state still struggles with basic transparency and accountability. These bureaucrats work for the people, and the news has a right to report what they are doing at all times. This obstruction is not helping democracy whatsoever.

Scotty_Poppins · 5 months ago

Being required to provide free "public interest" documents might finally goose agencies into good record keeping. It's not acceptable for DPS to have had such a poor system that they held people in custody beyond their release date! Could Civil Beat take a look at whether they have a better system now?

JusticePlease · 5 months ago

Seems like a high cap that’s way less than 1 million would be a decent deterrent to frivolous requests. Like maybe $1,000?

Keala_Kaanui · 5 months ago

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