Proposed ‘Sunshine Law’ exemption has hasty demise

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A bill that would have all-but-exempted county councils from the state’s open meetings law, also known as the “Sunshine Law,” is essentially dead for this legislative session.

State Sen. Clarence Nishihara, an Oahu Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Public Safety, Governmental and Military Affairs, deferred the bill during a Thursday hearing, meaning it won’t move out the committee.

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Senate Bill 720, which would have inserted a paragraph into the Sunshine Law allowing the state’s four county councils to recess and discuss matters in private before voting, was introduced by Sen. Kalani English, a Maui Democrat and Senate majority leader, who is on the committee.

Co-introducers were Sen. Gilbert Keith-Agaran, another Maui Democrat, and Sens. Michelle Kidani, Donna Mercado Kim, and Bennette Misalucha, all Oahu Democrats.

Signing on to the bill as supporters were Sen. Joy San Buenaventura of Puna, plus Nishihara and fellow Oahu Democrat Sens. Maile Shimabukuro, Brian Taniguchi and Glenn Wakai.

Thirty pages of written testimony were submitted to the committee, all in opposition to the bill.

Organizations opposed included the state Office of Information Practices, Common Cause Hawaii, the League of Women Voters, the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, the Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii Chapter, and the Big Island Press Club.

“It would rip the heart out of the Sunshine Law if you passed this bill. It would let the county council members to recess and huddle and caucus, and then just go back into the meeting and tell everybody what they decided,” said Cheryl Kakazu Park, director of the Office of Information Practices.

Common Cause Executive Director Sandy Ma told committee members the measure, if passed into law, “would effectively exempt the county councils from the Sunshine Law and render it moot as to the county councils.”

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Editor’s note: John Burnett is immediate past president of the Big Island Press Club.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.