The 28th Legislature opened today, Jan. 21, at the Hawaii state capitol in Honolulu. And to help ring in the 60-day festivities that are to follow, the Maui County Council submitted two bills that it would like to see pass. The first is a nice little bill that would allow UH Maui College to research industrial hemp. The second is the latest in a long series of salvos the council has fired at the state’s open meetings, or “sunshine” law.
Back in 2005, members of the County Council called on the Legislature to simply exempt them from the Sunshine Law, which mandates various conditions under which they can meet and make decisions (click here for a more detailed 2013 run-down on various County Council attacks on the Sunshine Law through the years). They’re not calling for something so far-reaching this time, so I guess we’re making progress.
The bill would “allow members of a county council to jointly attend and speak at community meetings where informational presentations are made,” according to a summary of the bill on the Maui County Council’s website.
“Under current interpretations of the law, Maui County council members–elected officials who represent all Maui County residents–can’t freely attend such gatherings,” council Chairman Mike White wrote in a Jan. 18 Maui News op-ed piece that discussed the new bill. “Consequently, opportunities to educate ourselves on important issues are limited. Some of you may have even seen council members reluctantly leave important community meetings because of Sunshine Law concerns.”
Please. The least they could do was come up with a new excuse for tinkering with the state law that requires official bodies like the Maui County Council to meet only in properly noticed public meetings with agendas posted days in advance, so members of the public who wish to observe or testify have adequate time to prepare. No, the council called for this very thing last year, and open government activists quickly criticized it.
“This safeguard is in place to prevent discussion and decisions made on issues without public input and public notice,” Carmille Lim of Common Cause Hawaii testified last year about a similar bill backed by the Council–HB 2139 HD1. “HB 2139 HD1 would allow all members to attend these meetings, listen to a biased presentation in support of a project, and would allow a quorum or all members to discuss the project or issue at hand.”
Look, legislating is supposed to difficult. It’s supposed to be inefficient. It’s supposed to be slow. If members of the Maui County Council want to meet with members of the community, then they can hold proper agendized public hearings. That’s how things are supposed to get done–out in the open, where the public can watch.