The Sunshine Blog: Much Ado About Nothing? - 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.

Back to the future: A bill to lower the cost of public records that was substantially changed without public input earlier this month may be revised significantly one more time — and again without public participation.

But this time it’s going pretty much back to the way it was.

On Monday Sen. Angus McKelvey surprised Rep. David Tarnas with a new draft of House Bill 719, the bill that started the session as a vehicle to reduce the cost of public records but later morphed into something that also allowed government officials to keep secret a lot of information on how officials make decisions on public policy.

McKelvey offered to remove so-called deliberative process privilege, but only if the House agreed to sunset the reduced fees after three years.

“We feel inclined to ensure that if there is any unintended consequences, that it can be reviewed by future legislators,” McKelvey said.

Tarnas, understandably, needed a bit of time to review the change, which caught public records advocates by surprise.

Your Sunshine Bloggers will be back at the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon when the measure is scheduled for a return visit.

Sen. Angus McKelvey, center, proposed yet another change to the public records bill during conference committee Monday. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The action continues: The House and Senate conferees will also resume work on House Bill 710, which has to do with penalties for intentional obstruction of justice. The class C felony would now be eligible for a deferred acceptance of guilty plea or no contest under a new draft.

“My view is that I want to give the judges the discretion to decide what’s best in each case based on the facts and their best judgment,” Tarnas explained, adding that he did not consider HB 710 duplicative of Senate Bill 228, another class C felony measure approved just last week. Rather, Tarnas called HB 710 “complementary” in dealing with corruption.

Tarnas and McKelvey also agreed to pass House Bill 712, which would encourage government boards to maintain records of meetings.

“This bill is a straightforward measure to provide for archiving of public meetings and links to recordings when available online,” Brian Black, the executive director of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, previously testified.

Editor’s note: The following item has been updated to reflect the latest legislative action on appointing conferees.

About those ballot bills: Two seemingly simple election reform bills have finally gotten a little attention in conference committee, with House conferees appointed Monday night for House Bill 1294 and Senate conferees for Senate Bill 47. Of course, each still needs conferees from the other chamber to hammer out differences between competing versions.

They were the last of 33 sunshine bills in conference committee to get at least some conferees with end-of-the-week deadlines nearing.

HB 1294 would require candidates to use their legal names on ballots when running for office. Currently, nicknames are often used.

A cage of labeled cardboard boxes containing ballots sits in the State Senate Chamber.

Ballots from the last general election are stacked in the State Senate Chamber. (Ben Angarone/Civil Beat/2022)

“This is a straightforward bill that should help eliminate any confusion over the identity of candidates for public office,” Janet Mason of the League of Women Voters said in written testimony. “It is reasonable to ask candidates to comply with this new law, although we do appreciate that many people are commonly known by a nickname or something other than their legal name.”

That nickname issue is a catch, however, because it could confuse voters who don’t know the candidates by their legal name, Sen. Karl Rhoads told The Sunshine Blog earlier this session. He noted that under current law, candidates have to use their legal name on nominating papers when they file for office so the real name is available to the public.

We’d argue that most voters don’t ever see those nominating papers. But they may very well want to check out candidates further online, which could be difficult if their ballot names aren’t their real names.

  • A Special Commentary Project

SB 47, meanwhile, would eschew alphabetical order in favor of randomizing the order in which candidates appear on ballots.

That would address “the well-known problem that coming first on the ballot increases a candidate’s total vote count,” the league’s Mason said in written testimony. “This phenomenon is well documented in political science and psychology research, and the advantage has been found to be about 2- 3% in close races.”

She couched her testimony as a comment rather than an endorsement, however, and there are logistical concerns about how the randomization would be accomplished, what it would cost and whether it would confuse voters.

Here’s an idea: After the filing deadline closes, throw the names of every candidate for a particular office into a hat (or something more, er, official), and the order in which their names are drawn is the order they appear on the ballot. The process could be live-streamed so the candidates or their representatives are watching.

Too easy?

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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)

Would it be too much to ask that candidates be allowed to list the name by which they area known in parentheses after their legal name? That would seem to be the best way to deal with it, since listing either one along has downsides.

JusticePlease · 7 months ago

Only good thing I can see about this whole process is that it clearly shows who the bad actors are . . . Might take a few election cycles to resolve.

Harvey · 7 months ago

So let me see if I got this correct, Angus McKelvey wants to use "deliberative process" to keep some records secret and only agreed to remove it if the bill includes a sunset clause to the reduction of rates, so others that can afford to see them back to rates that keeps the monitoring of public pages away from monitoring them? I sure would like to know his reasoning for this because the only thing I can think of is he wants to keep some things away from prying eyes. Considering they can already deliberate any "unintended consequences" as they arise and adjust accordingly. As it is until we get McKelvey's reasoning for this, Tarnas and public rights advocates are right to question it, and it probably should be ignored.

TheMotherShip · 7 months ago

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