The Big Island Press Club announced this week that Gov. David Ige has been awarded its annual Lava Tube dishonor.

In a press release the club pointed to a Civil Beat article last year that described the governor’s executive order suspending Hawaii’s public records law as “one of the most extreme anti-transparency measures executed in the U.S.”

Ige said in his March 16, 2020, supplemental proclamation that the Uniform Information Practices Act had to be suspended as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also suspended at the time the state’s open meetings law known as the Sunshine Law.

Ige’s staff said the laws had to be suspended in order that government agencies give their full attention to responding to the coronavirus.

But Big Island Press Club President Nancy Cook Lauer noted in the press release, “It’s sadly ironic that the governor did this on March 16, Freedom of Information Day.”

Governor David Ige holds the 6000 plus page congress stimulus draft during the governor’s press conference announcing his balancing/cutting budget press conference held at the Capitol. December 21, 2020
Gov. David Ige’s order to suspend Hawaii’s public records law has upset the Big Island Press Club. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The club said it understands that some government services had to be delayed in the early stages of reacting to a pandemic.

“But in the ensuing year, this ban on public records access has been only partially lifted, despite urgent calls to lift it by media, journalism groups and members of the state Legislature,” it said.

The ability of one branch of government “to unilaterally slam the door on access by the public to their own public records is something that should be taken seriously,” especially during a public health crisis.

Meanwhile, the press club’s Vice President, Michael Phillips, applauded state Sen. Dru Kanuha for sponsoring Senate Bill 134 to prohibit governors as well as county mayors from taking such actions in the future.

The bill has already passed the Senate and is now being considered in the House.

In other Big Island Press Club News, its annual meritorious Torch of Light award went to James Hustace and the Waimea Community Association for “for keeping the islandwide community informed during a pandemic and an election year.”

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