Hawaii Gov. David Ige on Thursday announced that he has signed an emergency proclamation temporarily suspending an upcoming provision in Hawaii’s Sunshine Law that would have mandated at least one in-person location be held for public meetings held remotely.

In a press release the governor cited the “the recent rise in Covid-19 cases” as rationale.

On Thursday, Hawaii set a new record for the number of cases — 3,484 — in a single day as the omicron variant of the virus spreads.

Act 220, which was passed by the Hawaii Legislature and signed into law by Ige — who requested the legislation — authorizes boards to use interactive conference technology to remotely conduct meetings under the state’s open meetings law.

That law will still go into effect Saturday, but the part of Act 220 requiring that boards hold the meetings at one in-person meeting location is on hold.

“This limited suspension ensures that government entities can continue conducting public meetings online, consistent with the important transparency requirements of Hawaii’s Sunshine Law,” the press release explains.

Governor David Ige prepares to remove mask before speaking at Prince David Kawananakoa Middle School press conference on the opening of schools for in person instruction.
Governor David Ige on Thursday suspended part of a new law set to go into effect this weekend that calls for government board meetings held remotely to have at least one in-person location. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The temporary suspension will remain in effect through Feb. 28 unless the governor terminates or changes the order.

Among those testifying in support of the in-person provision were several state agencies and the University of Hawaii along with the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, Common Cause Hawaii, the Big Island Press Club, the Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii Chapter and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii.

Brian Black, the Civil Beat Law Center’s executive director, wrote in his March 30 testimony, “We cannot put the burden on members of the community to request in-person meeting locations. Whether it is because of economic status, technological aptitude, or various other reasons, the benefits of technology do not reach everyone equally. In light of this digital divide, boards must continue to provide — by default — at least one official in-person meeting location where individuals unable to use remote technology can continue to participate in and observe board meetings.”

Ige was heavily criticized by good government groups for his suspension of the state’s open government laws in March 2020, when Covid first hit Hawaii. He lifted that suspension in August.

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