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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.

The Honolulu Police Commission on Wednesday will hold its second secret meeting since the Sunshine Law was temporarily waived as part of Gov. David Ige’s emergency proclamation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor’s emergency order says, however, that the boards shall reasonably allow for public participation consistent with social distancing practices, allowing written testimony to be submitted and livestreaming of meetings, as Common Cause Hawaii points out. “Common Cause has always contended that the public should be able to comment and provide testimony in real time because our testimonies can change based on what is discussed at the meeting because we cannot anticipate in advance what’s discussed,” said Common Cause Hawaii Executive Director Sandy Ma.

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