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West Hawaii Today - October 19, 2021 - Sunshine Law changes in the works

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 (who’s also the HSAC secretary) and who has 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.

Hawaii News Now - August 04, 2021 - Pressure grows for transparency as Honolulu’s fire commission secretly votes for next chief

Pressure is growing for less secrecy by the Honolulu Fire Commission as it searches for a new chief. The important decision is being handled mostly behind closed doors. Both government watchdog groups and council members say decisions that impact safety should be available for the public to review. The two finalists are Acting Chief Lionel Camara, Jr. and Acting Deputy Chief Sheldon Kalani Hao.

“Given the responsibility of the chief, that the chief is setting policy for the entire department, more transparency, more accountability should occur with that position,” said Sandy Ma, Executive Director of Common Cause Hawaii.

Hawaii Tribune-Herald - July 15, 2021 - Behind closed doors: Reapportionment Commission could become less transparent

A powerful commission tasked with redrawing political boundary lines for Hawaii’s state and congressional districts appears headed for more secrecy than in previous years, with the formation of private permitted interaction groups in lieu of publicly held committee hearings.

Establishing draft rules to take most of its work behind closed doors consumed most of an hour-long meeting of the Reapportionment Commission on Tuesday, with a substantial portion of the meeting held in executive session as the commission sought advice from its attorney on whether the process of setting up the permitted interaction groups followed the Sunshine Law.

A powerful commission tasked with redrawing political boundary lines for Hawaii’s state and congressional districts appears headed for more secrecy than in previous years, with the formation of private permitted interaction groups in lieu of publicly held committee hearings.

Establishing draft rules to take most of its work behind closed doors consumed most of an hour-long meeting of the Reapportionment Commission on Tuesday, with a substantial portion of the meeting held in executive session as the commission sought advice from its attorney on whether the process of setting up the permitted interaction groups followed the Sunshine Law.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - July 11, 2021 - Editorial: Campaign spending info seems cloudy at best now that Senate Bill 404 is law

Lawmakers say they favor transparency in campaign spending, but things still seem cloudy at best, now that Senate Bill 404 is law.
The measure, which Gov. David Ige had vetoed but was overridden this week, makes changes to the disclosure requirements for expenditures on ads and other campaign communications. In the end, the bill makes things easier on political action committees (PACs) reporting their spending on candidates, and on the candidates and their own committees as well.

That’s the assessment of Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, the public-interest nonprofit that was tracking the bill.

Honolulu Civil Beat - July 09, 2021 - Ethics Commission Quietly Drops Kealoha Investigation As Questions Swirl

When it comes to Louis and Katherine Kealoha, the Honolulu Ethics Commission has moved on.

In February, after a closed door meeting, the commission voted unanimously to drop its ongoing investigation into the retired police chief and his former prosecutor wife, citing their federal convictions in 2019 for conspiracy, obstruction of justice and other crimes.

Despite the commission’s decision, there are still plenty of questions remaining about the agency’s role in one of the largest public corruption scandals in Hawaii state history.

“It would have been good to have some self-reflection as to why the Honolulu Ethics Commission process seemed to be able to be manipulated and gamed in such a way by the Kealohas,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii. “I don’t know if that self-reflection occurred, and I haven’t seen it.”

West Hawaii Today - June 26, 2021 - Gutted with a Rusty Scalpel

A bill Gov. David Ige is threatening to veto and one he signed are the “winners” of this year’s Rusty Scalpel award from two public-interest groups. Both House Bill 862 and Senate Bill 1350 are titled “Relating to State Government,” and both were stripped of their original content and substituted with unrelated wording in the conference committee process, with no opportunity for public input.

“‘Gut and replace’ legislation violates the Hawaii State Constitution, reduces transparency, undermines accountability, and eliminates valuable public input throughout the legislative process,” Donna Oba, president of the League of Women Voters of Hawaii, said in a press release announcing the awards made by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii.

“The Hawaii State Constitution may not be convenient or expedient, but it provides accountability, transparency, an opportunity for thoughtful policy-making that is accountable to the people,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii. “The Hawaii State Legislature’s disdain for the rule of law must end.”

Honolulu Civil Beat - 23 June 2021 - Ige: Lack Of Public Input Is Driving Concerns Over Bills — And Possible Vetoes

The Hawaii governor is criticizing lawmakers’ failure to give the public or agencies a chance to comment before final votes on seven measures. When Gov. David Ige announced Monday he plans to veto 28 bills approved by the Legislature this year, he aimed some extra criticism at a number of measures he said lawmakers passed without giving the public enough opportunity to provide input.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, said her organization was also concerned with the tactics used in conference committee this year that tended to exclude the public.

“Our concern in conference is the public isn’t allowed to testify, we don’t see the proposed conference drafts that are being circulated, we are not in the room — especially this time,” she said. “We don’t know what horse trading is going on. We just have no clue as to what bill is going to emerge.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - June 03, 2021 - Letter to the Editor - Veto SB 404, which nixes political-ad disclosure

A wonky bill quietly made it through the 2021 Legislature and is waiting for Gov. David Ige to sign it into law. Senate Bill 404 eliminates disclosure requirements for those running for office, including incumbents, for political advertisements, such as whether to vote for or against a specific candidate.

This exclusion for candidates and their committees from having to file electioneering advertisement disclosures would be an incredible blow to political transparency in Hawaii, if signed into law. Currently, candidates and their committees must disclose contributions received for running such ads, whether candidates support or oppose the ads, and more.

The reason political-ad disclosures are necessary and currently required is because the general, voting public deserves to know which candidate is making the appeal to vote for or against someone and who is funding such appeals. We deserve transparency and honesty in our political processes. Please contact Governor Ige and ask him to veto SB 404.

This Letter to the Editor was written and submitted by Sandy Ma, Executive Director, Common Cause Hawaii

Honolulu Civil Beat - May 17, 2021 - Redrawing Of Hawaii’s Political Boundaries Could Stretch Into Early 2022

Advocates have raised concerns over closed door meetings of the Reapportionment Commission.

The process of redrawing Hawaii’s political boundaries could extend into next year because of a delay in getting population data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Hawaii Reapportionment Commission on Monday got to work setting out a timeline that allows it to complete reapportionment and redistricting in a reasonable timeframe given the delays in federal data.

Most of the commission’s discussions regarding its new timeline and hiring staff took place behind closed doors, not in the public session, on Monday. However, the commissioners reconvened in public to announce their decisions.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, said the open-government organization objects to the commission’s use of closed sessions to discuss topics like the impact of census data on the commission’s timeline. “This information is especially critical for the public watching and attending these meetings,” Ma said.

Honolulu Civil Beat - April 27, 2021 - Senate Bill 1350 passes the legislature although being a prime example of a "Gut and Replace" bill

The measure now delays pay raises for the governor and his cabinet, lawmakers and state judges and easily cleared the Legislature on Tuesday by unanimous votes in both the House and Senate.

SB 1350 began as a bill to create an Office of Public Accountability, an idea to consolidate several state watchdog agencies into one entity; it received backlash from all the agencies that would have been impacted. Senators gutted the bill in early March and replaced it with language on state redistricting. SB 1350 made it in this form through committee hearings in the House with slight changes and appeared headed for conference committee to sort out provisions on state reapportionment, which is expected to begin in the fall. But on April 13 at a key legislative deadline, House Speaker Scott Saiki removed the redistricting language completely and replaced it with a proposal to defer pay raises set to take effect July 1.

Earlier in the session, Common Cause Hawaii noted that it had “grave concerns” with how the reapportionment language was inserted into SB 1350, that the title of the bill was too vague and that the public was given less than 24 hours to look at proposed drafts of the measure. “In sum, these raise issues of constitutionally questionable gut and replace,” Sandy Ma, the organization’s executive director, said, adding that the organization recognized the need for senators to address reapportionment.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - April 26, 2021 - Editorial: Expand access to government

Anyone who has ever sat in on a hearing at the state Capitol knows why access to the building during session was unceremoniously shut to the public the moment the risk of the coronavirus pandemic became clear.

Wisely and for the better part of the last two sessions, access has been through online platforms. Beyond considerations of public health, this virtual approach has opened the discussions to many, including those on neighbor islands, who otherwise would not have their voices heard.

Likely, in-person interactions at the Capitol will be in place well before the start of the next lawmaking session convenes in January 2022.

That will be a welcome and crucial return to normal for those interested in good government, including organizations such as Common Cause Hawaii that advocate for the public interest, because there is no substitute for having the people in the “people’s house.”

Common Cause pushed for online access to the Capitol even before lockdown, said its executive director, Sandy Ma, and this has resulted in more citizens having the opportunity to interact with their state government.

Honolulu Civil Beat - April 18, 2021 - State Awarded Money To A Bidder That Blew The Deadline, Then Took It Back

The Department of Health says “crossed wires” led it to initially award $2 million to Sand Island Treatment Center, relied on by judges for addiction treatment. The center missed a February deadline to bid for a new infusion of state cash. The deadline was on a Friday, but Sand Island didn’t turn in its paperwork until the following Monday. But somehow, the facility was nonetheless awarded about $2 million over two fiscal years, the amount it requested.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, who used to work in state procurement, called it “kind of mind boggling.” An abundance of safeguards in state procurement, she said, require many people to review the process, which is why it takes so long. “That’s why it’s kind of hard to imagine how something like that could happen,” she said

West Hawaii Today - April 18, 2021 - Bill that would give legislators more oversight of governor’s emergency orders advances

A bill that would allow the state Legislature to review emergency orders put in place by the governor after 60 days is headed for a House-Senate conference committee.

House Bill 103 would also require the governor to justify the suspension of any laws during a declared emergency.

If adopted, the law would be changed to require the governor to make a request for extension of an emergency period to the Legislature no later than 12 days prior to the 60-day conclusion of a declared emergency period, with extensions requiring the Legislature to agree by a concurrent resolution.

Organizations in support include For Our Rights, Common Cause Hawaii, League of Women Voters Hawaii, the Civil Beat Law Center in the Public Interest and Hawaii Government Employees Association. Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause, said the ability to request public records and receive them in a timely manner is “necessary for a functioning democracy.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - April 14, 2021 - Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s pick for Police Commission withdraws nomination

Mayor Blangiardi’s pick for the police commission withdrew his nomination. Benjamin Mahi was a former HPD officer and his partner is a current one. There were concerns about his ability to conduct oversight of HPD if on the Police Commission.

“There are some people in the advocacy community who are concerned, given his close contacts with HPD,” Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, said prior to Mahi’s withdrawal. “They are concerned about his ability to remain impartial.”

Honolulu Civil Beat - April 13, 2021 - A Building Inspector Took Money From A Homeowner. Her Punishment: 2 Years Paid Time Off

Before five employees in the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting were indicted by the feds two weeks ago, accused of accepting bribes, one of their colleagues admitted to cashing a check from a property owner whose plans she was reviewing. But she didn’t face any discipline or get charged with a crime. At least not yet. Instead, she got two years of paid time off.

Sandy Ma, executive director of the government accountability organization Common Cause Hawaii, said the city’s response appears to encourage bad behavior. “They need to put the public first. It’s like, come on, people,” she said. “Two years. Holy cow. And they didn’t even root out the problem.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - April 09, 2021 - Honolulu Police Commission to evaluate police chief after tumultuous year

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard’s third performance review by the Honolulu Police Commission is scheduled for today. But this year the commission, which has been more supportive than critical of Ballard, will be confronted with a slew of inquiries and attacks against HPD and the chief — many revolving around the department’s spending of CARES Act money and, recently, Ballard’s level of transparency with the public.

In late March she held rare interviews with local news outlets, although the format was criticized as being “transparency-lite,” as described by Common Cause Hawaii. Reporters were given just 10 minutes to talk with Ballard, the interviews were structured to be one-on-one with the chief, and reporters were asked to submit their questions to HPD hours beforehand.

“Reporters may not follow up on each other’s questions. A reporter may not ascertain the necessary information in 10 minutes and would need information gleaned from other reporter’s questions, which is denied under this format,” Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, said in an email statement.

Hawaii News Now - April 02, 2021 - Watchdogs question HPD chief’s personal purchases from vendors awarded CARES Act funds

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard bought personal equipment from companies that her agency awarded CARES Act contracts to, Hawaii News Now has learned. Watchdog groups are calling the purchases a conflict of interest. In a series of emails, a spokesperson for HPD did acknowledge that Ballard bought two scooters from businesses that supplied a large order of ATVs and UTVs the police department purchased last summer.

Sandy Ma, of Common Cause Hawaii, said that could still be considered a conflict of interest. “It does raise some concerns about the appearance of impropriety,” Ma said.

Honolulu Civil Beat - March 23, 2021 - The Hawaii Capitol Is Closed To The Public, But Some Lobbyists Still Have Entree

While most members of the public can’t visit the State Capitol during the 2021 legislative session, the ability of some lobbyists to gain access raises questions of fairness.

“If people can meet with lawmakers at the Capitol, it defeats the purpose of having a closed Capitol,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of the good-government group Common Cause Hawaii. “We understand it should be safe for people working there. But people are going in and it’s not just for needed work to be done.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - March 17, 2021 - Lawmakers look to claw back felons’ pensions

Former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha is set to begin a seven-year prison sentence next month for felony convictions relating to his use of police officers to help frame his wife’s uncle. But that won’t stop his $9,700 monthly pension payments that come with having served 33 years on the police force.

The payments have fueled debate in recent years about Hawaii’s practice of continuing to pay out retirement benefits to public employees who commit serious crimes related to their jobs. Hawaii lawmakers are looking to curb the benefits this year through legislation that would allow a court to order half of an employee’s pension to be forfeited if they are convicted of a job-related felony.

Senate Bill 912 has sailed through the full Senate, and on Tuesday it passed the House Labor and Tourism Committee. The bill still faces additional hearings in the House of Representatives, but a similar measure introduced by House Speaker Scott Saiki passed the House in 2019, an indication that the proposed legislation, which has been introduced numerous times over the years, could succeed this year.

“Public employees are also public servants. They cannot defraud the public and destroy our confidence in government and still reap the benefits of their criminal misconduct,” wrote Common Cause Hawaii Executive Director Sandy Ma in testimony on the measure.

Honolulu Civil Beat - March 07, 2021 - Lawmakers End Efforts To Revamp Oversight Of Watchdog Agencies

Hawaii State House leaders have decided against pursuing most measures aimed at controlling the state auditor although investigation into that office continues. The House’s attempts to reorganize government watchdog agencies and gut the state auditor’s budget appear to have stalled for this legislative session.

Sandy Ma, executive director of the open-government group Common Cause Hawaii, said she’s glad to see the measure stall. “I think public pressure really halted this from going forward,” Ma said of HB 1341.

Honolulu Civil Beat Commentary- February 15, 2021 - Chad Blair: Are House Lawmakers Out To Get Josh Green?

A bill from the speaker and majority leader would forbid lieutenant governors from holding side jobs. Now, new legislation is moving through the state House that would ban Hawaii lieutenant governors from holding second jobs. Some folks are already calling House Bill 1075 the Josh Green bill, because the sitting LG is a medical doctor who works a 48-hour shift twice a month in the emergency room of tiny Kohala Hospital in Kapaau.

Sandy Ma of Common Cause Hawaii supports it, writing in testimony, “Any significant gift or monetary compensation from interests outside of their state position is entirely inappropriate and could cloud their judgment or lead them to consider their personal interests above those of their electorate.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - February 14, 2021 - Hawaii lawmakers scrap bill exempting counties from Sunshine Law

State lawmakers shelved a bill that would allow the county councils on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island to debate in secret before casting votes on proposed legislation. But another measure is still alive this session that government watchdog groups warn could curb the state’s open meetings law.

This other bill pending, House Bill 481, would strip away safeguards and open government groups warn it could be used to circumvent transparency requirements built into the Sunshine Law.

Hawaii Tribune Herald - February 12, 2021 - Proposed ‘Sunshine Law’ exemption has hasty demise

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

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.

Honolulu Star Advertiser - Feb 09, 2021 - Hawaii legislators could boost minimum wage to $12 next year

A bill to raise Hawaii’s minimum wage to $12 in July 2022 passed unanimously out of its first committee Monday, with more than 180 individuals and groups testifying in favor, most saying it should be much higher.

“Twelve dollars an hour is a start but still is not even close to a living wage,” Patrick Switzer testified to the Senate Committee on Labor, Culture and the Arts. “As a registered nurse working in Honolulu, I can tell you this increase would be a lifeline to the working poor, who are faced with impossible decisions each day, such as deciding between purchasing food for their kids and paying utility bills.”

Groups weighing in on behalf of the measure included Living Wage Hawaii, Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law &Economic Justice, Common Cause Hawaii, League of Women Voters of Hawaii, Americans for Democratic Action and labor unions such as the ILWU, Hawaii Government Employees Association and Hawaii State Teachers Association.

Honolulu Civil Beat - Hawaii Senate Advances Asset Forfeiture Reform Measure

Senate Bill 294 would only allow agencies to sell property authorities believe may have been involved in a crime if the owner of that property is convicted of a felony offense. The state auditor found in a 2018 report that, in a sample of civil asset forfeiture cases, property was seized without a corresponding criminal charge in 26% of those cases.

SB 294 would also direct revenue generated from the sale of seized property from a fund controlled by law enforcement to the state general fund. Lawmakers have said that would remove the financial incentive agencies like police departments might have for seizing property.

Groups including Young Progressives Demanding Action, Common Cause Hawaii, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, the state Office of the Public Defender and about a dozen individuals all testified in support of the measure.

Honolulu Civil Beat - Bill Would Give Lawmakers Control Over Auditor’s Paycheck

A bill that would empower the Legislature to set the salary of the State Auditor has been co-introduced by House Speaker Scott Saiki and Democratic Majority Leader Della Au Belatti in what may be another sign that State Auditor Les Kondo has fallen from favor.

House Speaker Scott Saiki announced plans to establish a panel to assess the auditor’s office. The panel will include former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and former state Office of Finance Director Wes Machida. It will be led by former Honolulu City Auditor Edwin Young. Speaker Saiki also has proposed cutting the budget for the state auditor by more than 50%.

Common Cause Executive Director Sandy Ma described the salary and budget cutting measures as “troubling.” “As an organization that is focused on good government, transparency and accountability, we would like to see the auditors have some measure of leeway in their job functions,” Ma said. “To have these measures introduced just seems kind of suspicious at this point in time.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - Richard Borreca Editorial On Politics: Shutting off welcoming state Capitol from the public would send discouraging message

Say goodbye to Hawaii’s signature state Capitol, if it loses its long and graceful sightlines as they are closed by a tumble of concrete barriers and chain link fences. COVID-19 and the rioting supporters of former President Donald Trump both are sealing off the structure and destroying its significance as an open public meeting area. The Beretania Street barriers are likely to become a permanent fixture.

Sandy Ma, Common Cause Hawaii executive director, worries that while security is important, it is one of several important issues to be considered. “Given the dire economic situation that our elected officials are facing in Hawaii, erecting security at the state Capitol, where we have had peaceful, nonviolent marches, demonstrations, protests, etc. (that I can think of), must seriously be balanced with the other needs faced by Hawaii’s people,” Ma said in an interview. Ma said that she wants all in the Capitol to be safe, “but we are concerned that people may be discouraged from participating given any potential physical barriers that may give the impression that the state Capitol, which is the People’s House, is no longer welcoming or inviting the public.”

Hawaii News Now - Host of safety protocols in place to prevent COVID outbreak during legislative session

The legislative session kicked off this week, but state business will be conducted much differently during the pandemic in an effort to keep the building safe.
Currently, an invitation is needed to enter the Capitol building. Inside, everyone must pass through a temperature check station in the basement. Once given the all clear, lawmakers, staff and guests need to pick up a day pass that’s worn at all times. Conference rooms have been rearranged to give members more space during committee hearings. What you can’t see are all of the technological improvements meant to bolster remote access to proceedings. The general public won’t be allowed to testify on legislation in person. Instead they’ll have their say virtually.

Advocates for open government believe the new system will allow more people to participate.

“We think remote testimony will benefit the public. We are an island state. It costs money and time to travel to Oahu to the State Capitol to testify,” said Sandy Ma, Common Cause executive director.

Hawaii Public Radio - The Conversation: The Challenges of Public Access in a Pandemic

Physical restrictions due to the pandemic have created complications for public access. As state lawmakers open up the new legislative session, technology has helped in many ways. For instance, those from the neighbor islands no longer have the added expense of traveling to Oahu in order to participate in public testimony. Sandy Ma, head of Common Cause Hawaii, goes over the pros and cons of remote public access.

Honolulu Civil Beat - Commentary: Some Want Permanent Security Barriers At Capitol, But At What Cost?

This piece by Denby Fawcett discusses the fencing and blockades that now mar the open spaces of one of the most beautiful buildings in Hawaii and reduce public access to the workings of government. In the article, Sandy Ma, Common Cause Hawaii's Executive Director, weighs in, saying that adopting permanent barriers and other enhanced security measures at the State Capitol building would keep the public from, or hinder their access to public officials. So any continued security measures must not deter public access to the building.

Honolulu Civil Beat - Changes To Hawaii’s Sunshine Law Could Improve Access To Public Meetings

The new proposal from the state Office of Information Practices gives boards more options, including ways to meet remotely. The Office of Information Practices plans to introduce a bill next session that would allow boards and commissions to continue to meet using video conferencing software like Zoom or BlueJeans even after the pandemic has passed.

Common Cause Hawaii raised issues with some of those provisions, specifically one line that allows meetings to continue even if one of the meeting sites loses connection.

“If I’m waiting to testify, present information, and that location has technical issues, it seems problematic that the meeting is allowed to continue,” said Sandy Ma, the open-government group’s executive director. She hopes such meetings will increase participation in government, especially if boards allow for remote testimony.

The Omaha Daily Record - Hawaii Court Hears Case Over ‘Gut and Replace’ Legislation

Attorneys argued before the Hawaii Supreme Court last Wednesday over how much lawmakers should allow the public to weigh in on legislation as laws are being drafted and voted on.

The justices listened to lawyers over a video link that was streamed live on YouTube. They were considering a lawsuit challenging the Legislature’s practice of stripping bills of their original content and substituting something entirely different.

The League of Women Voters of Honolulu and Common Cause Hawaii sued the state in 2018 over the tactic, which is often called “gut and replace” in Hawaii. Similar maneuvers in other states are called “gut and stuff” or “gut and amend.”

Honolulu Civil Beat - Supreme Court Hears Challenge To Lawmakers’ Gut-And-Replace Tactics

Open-government groups are challenging the Legislature’s practice of making drastic, sometimes last-minute changes to bills.

The Hawaii Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments from Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, who contend that the Legislature’s practice of gutting bills and then replacing the contents with other legislation is not open to the public.

The Ige administration and Legislature also made their case, arguing that the justices should stay out of how lawmakers conduct their business.

Hawaii Tribune-Herald - Hawaii Supreme Court hears arguments about lawmakers’ use of controversial gut-and-replace tactic

The state Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday about the Legislature’s practice of stripping a bill of its original content and substituting entirely different content, a process known as gut-and-replace.

The League of Women Voters of Honolulu and Common Cause Hawaii sued the state in 2018 over the tactic, specifically for measure titled “A Bill for an Act Relating to Public Safety.”

AP News - Hawaii top court hears arguments over ‘gut and replace’ laws

HONOLULU (AP) — Attorneys argued before the Hawaii Supreme Court on Wednesday over how much lawmakers should allow the public to weigh in on legislation as laws are being drafted and voted on.

The justices listened to lawyers over a video link that was streamed live on YouTube. They were considering a lawsuit challenging the Legislature’s practice of stripping bills of their original content and substituting something entirely different.

The League of Women Voters of Honolulu and Common Cause Hawaii sued the state in 2018 over the tactic, which is often called “gut and replace” in Hawaii.

Honolulu Civil Beat - How Kym Pine Is Using the ‘Power Of Incumbency’ In Mayor’s Race

In the months leading up to Honolulu’s mayoral election, the only candidate who currently holds elected office has drastically upped her public relations game. City Councilwoman Kym Pine has sent out a flurry of press releases from her official city address in the last six months.

Pine’s official communications portray her in a flattering light, but don’t mention her mayoral campaign or appeal for donations. Therefore, it’s probably fair game - "the power of incumbency,” according to Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii.

Honolulu Civil Beat - Aloha Stadium Deal Panned By Watchdog Groups

Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii decry this gut and replace bill. House Bill 1586, introduced in the 2019 Hawaii Legislature, called for shifting around various energy and environmental agencies within state government. But by the time it was passed and later became law, it morphed into a $350 million deal for Aloha Stadium.

Because of that, HB 1586 has received the sixth annual Rusty Scalpel award from Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii. The award is meant to focus attention on what’s known as gut and replace — “an abusive practice of government, in which legislators take a bill on one topic, gut the language, and replace it with something completely different to avoid the Constitutionally required legislative review,” according to a recent press release.

Common Cause Hawaii and The League of Women Voters of Honolulu legally challenged gut and replace in 2018.

Hawaii Public Radio News - Hawaii Legislature Prepares To Conclude. Transparency Advocates Cry Foul

Friday is the final scheduled day for the Hawaii Legislature’s 2020 session. The coronavirus pandemic forced lawmakers to close public access to the state Capitol, end in-person testimony on legislation, and broadcast all legislative hearings for remote viewing.

Sandy Ma with the good governance watchdog Common Cause Hawaii says the remote viewing system has been problematic, having observed audio quality too distorted to understand, camera angles making it impossible to identify speakers, and scheduling errors resulting in votes and hearings taking place without being broadcast. However, her biggest issue is with the restrictions on public participation. Normally, residents can appear in person to voice their concerns about proposed laws and even answer questions from lawmakers. Ma says that makes for better government and better policy. In the era of COVID, only written testimony was accepted, which she believes is an inadequate substitute.

Bill would make Rep. Takayama eligible to run for Sen. Harimoto’s seat

Twelve days after the death of state Sen. Breene Harimoto, the House Judiciary Committee proposed a change in state election law that would make committee member Rep. Gregg Taka yama eligible to run to serve out the last two years of Harimoto’s term.

Lawmakers say Takayama (D, Pearl City-Waimalu- Pacific Palisades) has privately expressed interest in moving up to the Senate, but under current law is prohibited from seeking Harimoto’s Senate seat because he already filed to run for reelection to the House seat he now holds.

Common Cause Hawaii considers this scheme to be insider dealing.

Honolulu Civil Beat - The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Is Gutting Its Newsroom

In a devastating blow to Hawaii’s largest daily newspaper, leadership at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser told employees it intends to lay off about half of its union news staff by the end of the month.

Thirty-one workers across all departments are flagged for removal: 15 of the newspaper’s 34 reporters, two photographers, three page designers, seven clerks, three graphic artists and a web designer.

Honolulu Civil Beat - The Pay Keeps Flowing For Accused Honolulu Officials On Leave

More than a year after three high-ranking Honolulu officials went on paid administrative leave amid their involvement in a federal investigation, the city won’t say how much longer it expects to continue paying them. The city says it has no policy limiting the length of time an employee can be on paid leave, according to Alexander Zannes, the mayor’s communications director. Investigations shouldn’t be indefinite, said Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, a nonprofit that advocates for government accountability. The city should consider putting some time limits on paid administrative leave, she said — perhaps six months with extensions when necessary. The city could also allow people under investigation to work in other areas of government, Ma said, especially since the COVID-19 epidemic requires all hands on deck.

KHON2 News - Governor says Navigator and mainland consultants will be funded

Gov. David Ige says he will still fund the recovery navigator and mainland consultants to do most of its work, this after lawmakers cut the $10 million line item from CARES Act spending last week. “Certainly we will look at hiring all of the consultants that we need to ensure that we can move the state of Hawaii forward, that would include the Boston Consulting Group,” Ige said. “We do have adequate resources through various programs.”

“That is a lot of money, and it is also quite disturbing that $5 million was supposed to be used for an outside Boston Consulting Group,” said Sandy Ma of watchdog group Common Cause Hawaii. “I mean it’s not even in Hawaii.”

Honolulu Civil Beat - Legislative Leadership Must Rise To The Occasion

It’s past time for the 2020 legislative session to likewise get back to doing “the people’s work.” Critical items that need to be addressed include screening and testing at airports, and food sustainability. Ensuring health care for the recently unemployed, standing up health screening/testing at airports, supporting local agriculture and food-self sufficiency, implementing remote testimony capability, passing automatic voter registration, and preserving the hard-fought Earned Income Tax Credit and increases in Hawaii’s minimum wage are just a few of the critical items that must be addressed.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - Off the News: Police Commission must open up

Today, the commission was to hold its second meeting out of public view and involvement. This, despite Gov. David Ige’s proclamation stating that boards take “reasonable measures to allow public participation consistent with social distancing practices, such as providing electronic notice of meetings, allowing submission of written testimony on agendized items, (and) live streaming meetings.”

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Editorial Board supports Common Cause Hawaii's position that these commission meetings must be open to the public. Please click on the link to read more of about Common Cause Hawaii's position on these meetings.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser Island Voices Column - Expand options for distance learning

David Miyashiro, founding Executive Director of HawaiiKidsCAN and a Common Cause Hawaii Board Member, advocates that the State DOE must establish real-time two-way communication with the public and families for clarification and transparency.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser OpEd Column - Protect democracy by restoring open government in Hawaii

OpEd by Common Cause Hawaii's Sandy Ma and others commends our elected leaders for recognizing the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic and taking action to protect the health, safety and well-being of Hawaii’s people, but they find it disappointing that Gov. David Ige suspended our state’s open-meetings and open-records laws in his March 16 Supplemental Emergency Declaration.

Based on Common Cause Hawaii advocacy, Maui Lawyer's Draft Open Letter to Maui Mayor on Open Government Requirements During Emergency

The letter expresses concern about the State Governor's recent suspension of the operation of certain open government laws and their potential affect on Maui Council meetings and operations.

Honolulu Civil Beat - More Groups Call On Ige To Bring Transparency Back Into Government

The Hawaii governor suspended state laws that allow citizens access to public meetings and records while officials struggle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Common Cause Hawaii spearheaded the effort by a diverse coalition of more than 40 organizations and individuals calling on Hawaii Gov. David Ige, the four county mayors and state legislators to be more transparent as they struggle to contain the growing coronavirus pandemic.

Hawaii Public Radio - Some Hawaii Agencies Get Creative To Keep Public Involved, Others Abandon Participation

Civic participation is a challenge during the time of coronavirus. Some agencies are finding ways to still include the public, despite Gov. David Ige's emergency order suspending the requirement among other state laws.

The good governance watch dog group Common Cause Hawaii, has come out strongly against the suspension of the Sunshine Law. On Tuesday, the group’s Executive Director Sandy Ma sent a letter to Gov. Ige, the state Legislature, all four county mayors, and the county councils urging them to restore the government transparency rules.

Honolulu Civil Beat - Suspension Of Hawaii’s Open Government Laws More Extreme Than Other States

Gov. David Ige has alarmed government watchdogs with his proclamations that shut the public out of public meetings and eliminates the release of public records.

“Democracy, accountability and transparency still matter during these crucial times,” said Sandy Ma, the executive director of Common Cause Hawaii. “So much is happening so quickly, and it needs to because we are in a crisis situation, but we also need to document what is happening for the future good so that we can look back and see what we did right and what we did wrong.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser Editorial: Government must be open to scrutiny

The governor’s decision to suspend the state’s Sunshine Law, the requirement that government agencies conduct business in open meetings and with advance notice, as well as the law that makes government records open and available, could have consequences that the beleaguered public, distracted by other woes, has not imagined and must work to avoid.

It does appear that some agencies are making an effort to that end. Sandy Ma, executive director of the good-government nonprofit Common Cause Hawaii, noted that the state Ethics Commission has provided a call-in option for anyone wishing to “attend” the meeting, set for Friday, by teleconference. Another example: the state Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 has been livestreaming its hearings on how the state is dealing with the pandemic. That’s encouraging.

However, the governor’s order says only such access provisions may be made “at the sole discretion of the department or agency.” That should not be the case.

Common Cause Hawaii Email to the Hawaii Senate Committee on COVID-19

While Common Cause Hawaii commends the Hawaii State Senate’s formation of the Senate's special committee on COVID-19, we are unclear as to why the meetings are not open, transparent, and televised to the public on 'Ōlelo.

Honolulu Civil Beat: Don’t Keep The Public From Participating In Public Policy During A Crisis

Senate Bill 2038 would exempt boards from Hawaii’s Sunshine Law on meetings when emergencies like COVID-19 are in effect.

Honolulu Civil Beat: Honolulu Agrees To Post Financial Disclosures Online

The Honolulu City Clerk’s office said it would post financial disclosure records on its website after the city ethics commission received blowback for removing that information from its site.

Government accountability advocates had criticized the removal of this information. Sandy Ma of Common Cause Hawaii had called it “extraordinarily troubling.”

Honolulu Civil Beat: Honolulu Ethics Commission Scrubs Financial Disclosures From Website

Public records in which Honolulu officials disclose their business interests, real estate holdings and family ties are no longer posted on the Honolulu Ethics Commission’s website, and disclosures from past years have been deleted.

"It is extraordinarily troubling that the commission would make it harder for the public to access the records," said Sandy Ma, executive director of the government accountability nonprofit Common Cause Hawaii.

KHON2: Kauai Councilman Arthur Brun indicted for federal drug offenses

More legal trouble for Kauai Councilman Arthur Brun, who’s now been indicted for federal drug offenses. He was one of twelve people arrested in a sting operation. Brun faces more charges than any of the other defendants, including the most serious offenses like conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

“Mr. Brun should have to abide by the same laws too and we want to make sure that the people are represented and Mr. Brun is not distracted by the pending charges,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii.

Honolulu Civil Beat: Caldwell Took In $155,000+ From Territorial Bank in 2019

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell did well for himself last year.

In addition to his $186,432 city salary, he pulled in at least $155,638 from Territorial Savings Bank – a result of his earnings as a bank director and exercising stock options, according to his recently filed financial disclosure form. “We would like his full attention to be devoted to being mayor,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of the government accountability nonprofit Common Cause Hawaii.

Honolulu Civic Beat: Free Lunch From A Contractor Is Annual Tradition at Honolulu Hale

The Ethics Commission is considering a zero-tolerance policy on “tokens of aloha.” Honolulu ethics guidelines say city departments shouldn’t accept any gifts from those doing business with their agencies. That includes contractors.

Photos from the Impeachment Support Rally on Oahu on 17 December 2019

Some photos are shown here from this spirited event, co-sponsored by Common Cause Hawaii. Go here to our Facebook Page for more.

AP News: Gabbard faces heat back home for present vote on impeachment

Longshot presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard is facing some heat in her heavily Democratic home state of Hawaii for voting “present” on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Common Cause Hawaii Executive Director, Sandy Ma, said Gabbard’s votes aren’t representative of the people in her district and added Gabbard “shamed herself.”

Honolulu Civil Beat: Why Corrupt Public Employees In Hawaii Keep Their Pensions

For those convicted of abusing public office, the pension payments don’t stop at the guilty verdict.

Honolulu Civil Beat: Lawmakers’ Financial Disclosures Don’t Always Paint A Complete Picture

Lawmakers financial disclosures do not provide much detail or precise depictions of legislators’ financial interests.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser: David Shapiro: $350M Aloha Stadium plan has flies on it already

Common Cause and the League of Women Voters last week awarded the 2019 Legislature its “Rusty Scalpel” award for using the deceitful gut-and-replace tactic to provide $350 million for a new stadium

The Maui News: County paid for council members, staff to stay at Wailea hotel for HSAC

Six Maui County Council members and six executive assistants stayed at the Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott Maui during a conference in June and were reimbursed in public funds to the tune of just over $11,000, according to documents obtained from the county Finance Department.

Critics Question Former Council Chair’s Ties To North Shore Project

Some residents ask whether campaign contributions and a job factored into Ernie Martin’s support for a controversial Pupukea project.

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