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Honolulu Star-Advertiser OpEd Column: Common Cause, transparency are vital to good government

Fifty years ago in 1970, Punahou School graduate John W. Gardner — a Republican secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) under a Democratic president, Lyndon B. Johnson — founded Common Cause, which became the nation's largest public interest group dedicated to providing open, honest and accountable government. As is the case today in America, disenchantment with government was exceedingly high. In our current climate of cynicism and exhaustion with corruption in politics at the highest level, Common Cause Hawaii's efforts to sustain the legacy of Gardner in advocating for good government is particularly important. Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, has repeatedly and forcefully spoken out, calling for an end in local politicsof insidious abuses of our fragile democracy.

The latest emergency proclamation by Gov. David Ige steps back from blanket suspensions of the state open meetings and open records laws that he had issued in mid-March in an effort to lessen the spread of the coronavirus.

Common Cause of Hawaii and the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest worked with state attorneys to come up with the new language that appears at the end of the proclamation the governor issued Tuesday. For more information on this new proclamation, see the next article in these News Clips and click on the Read More button.

In a new proclamation, the governor asks agencies to do their best when it comes to providing public access to public meetings and records.

The proclamation states that if public boards and commissions, such as county councils, do conduct business, which would require proper social distancing and teleconferencing capabilities, then every attempt should be made under normal Sunshine Law procedures to ensure public notification and participation, from posting agenda materials online to accommodating remote viewing and testimony. The Civil Beat Law Center and Common Cause Hawaii both wrote letters to Ige urging him to reconsider the suspension of the so called Sunshine Law, saying among other things that it was “recklessly overbroad.”

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser editors endorse the proposed strategy by a Common Cause Hawaii-led coalition for the state to maintain the intent of the Sunshine Law.

In response to the first signs of COVID-19 community spread in Hawaii, Gov. David Ige issued an emergency proclamation in mid-March that, In addition to sensible provisions, included a puzzling suspension of a state public access law. The appalling upshot is that government bodies and agencies are now free to push forward with policy-making decisions while keeping the public in the dark, as they are not required to provide even a bare minimum of access to public meetings A coalition of open-government advocates led by Common Cause Hawaii has proposed a reasonable strategy for maintaining the intent of the law as the state continues to grapple with coronavirus outbreak concerns. For starters, it asserts that just as citizens are deferring nonessential travel and activity, so should government defer noncritical policy-making decisions until “full and meaningful public involvement can be guaranteed.”

State attorneys are working on language that would restore at least some portions of the suspended Sunshine Law that requires government meetings to be public.

A coalition of open-government and public-access advocates led by Common Cause Hawaii sharply criticized Ige for imposing the restriction, arguing that suspension of the Sunshine Law wiped away decades of government transparency.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - Some fear liberties will be lost in Hawaii’s COVID-19 pandemic orders

Over the past few months Hawaii leaders have established curfews, called out the National Guard, set up checkpoints, ordered businesses to close, required the wearing of face masks, deployed drones to clear beaches and waived open records and meetings laws. Also, advocates of open government and transparency were alarmed in mid-March when the governor suspended the state laws requiring agencies to meet in public and make government records public as part of the administration’s emergency COVID-19 response. In response to the order, Common Cause Hawaii sent a letter to the governor, signed by more than 40 different groups, asking that government meetings be required to remain open by remote access through audio and video means.

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