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Sunshine Law changes in the works: Council to take up issue Wednesday

There’s little detail, but County Council members will be asked Wednesday to approve a resolution asking the county to support changes to the Sunshine Law, the state law governing public meetings and public notice to the meetings.

Resolution 238 simply states it supports “the addition of an item titled ‘amending the Sunshine Law, Part I of Chapter 92, Hawaii Revised Statues, to enhance the capacity of County Councils to develop effective public policy while assuring transparency and citizen participation in local government’ for inclusion in the 2022 Hawaii State Association of Counties Legislative Package.”

Introduced by Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball, the resolution is going directly to the council for one vote, skipping the committee process.

The public can comment via Zoom at the 9 a.m. Wednesday meeting. Testifiers must sign up by noon today by emailing relley.araceley@hawaiicounty.gov or calling (808) 961-8255. Written testimony can also be emailed to counciltestimony@hawaiicounty.gov .

Kimball, who’s HSAC secretary, said she’s been meeting with representatives from the Office of Information Practices, council members from the other counties as well as the citizen groups, Common Cause Hawaii, League of Women Voters of Hawaii and the Civil Beat Law Center, to craft an amendment.

There aren’t a lot of details, Kimball said Monday, because the group is still discussing the issue. But she waned to get county legislation passed in hopes that something can be added to the HSAC legislative package when it’s formulated in December.

“We’re still in negotiations. … I don’t want to prescribe any language,” Kimball said, describing the legislation as “kind of a preemptive move.”

“We’re not prescribing any bill but letting the negotiations happen,” she said.

Brian Black, executive director of the Civil Beat Law Center, said he’s had informal discussions with Common Cause, League of Women Voters, Kimball and Honolulu Councilman Tommy Waters about potential changes to the Sunshine Law.

Black said to date discussion has advanced on ideas around more than a quorum being permitted to attend certain presentations with limitations, requiring distribution of board packets at least 24 hours before a meeting and public access to more adjudicatory land use proceedings than just those proceedings of the land use commission.

”Nothing has advanced to a stage where the Law Center has a position one way or the other,” Black said. “But the conversation certainly has been more productive than the perennial proposals by others to entirely exempt county councils from the Sunshine Law. “

The state association of counties and especially Maui County Council members, have been trying to loosen county Sunshine Law requirements for years. A bill introduced by Maui and Oahu senators that would have allowed the state’s four county councils to recess and discuss matters in private before voting met a hasty demise in the Legislature earlier this year.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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