Democracy Still Matters in Time of Pandemic

    Media Contact
  • Sandy Ma Executive Director of Common Cause Hawaii (808) 275-6275

HONOLULU – Common Cause Hawaii applauds the Hawaii State Legislature for recognizing the seriousness of the COVID-19 risk and recessing the 2020 legislative session indefinitely starting March 17, 2020 for the health and safety of the public, legislative staff, and elected officials.

Common Cause Hawaii also commends the City and County of Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell for closing Honolulu facilities, closing indoor city facilities and banning events of more than 50 people on city property. The Honolulu City Council has also cancelled all committee meetings and will hold full Council meetings only for the time being. These actions by our elected leaders recognize that we must take unprecedented steps to halt the transmission of COVID-19 in our island community.

While the Legislature may have recessed and the city doors may have closed, government still continues to operate and function as it should. House Speaker Scott Saiki said that lawmakers will be in their legislative offices working during the recess.

Common Cause Hawaii stresses the importance of democracy during this time of pandemic. Governor David Ige, by Supplemental Emergency Proclamation dated March 16, 2020, waived many laws pertaining to transparency and accountability, specifically Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 92 dealing with open meetings, and Chapter 91 dealing with rulemaking.

Even though the government continues to function with limited public oversight, public officials, should maximize transparency and remote public participation and limit public business to priority functions. Public officials should do everything in their powers to maximize the ability of the public to continue observing and participating in government proceedings, following these recommendations where possible:

  • Postpone routine, non-priority government action until the state of emergency has ended.
  • Provide widespread public notice of scheduled government proceedings.
  • Provide public access to observe government proceedings via live and recorded video available on government websites.
  • Provide public ability to participate in government proceedings via videoconference where possible and, at a minimum, via telephone and submission of written testimony.
  • Require all members of the public participating in a meeting or proceeding to be clearly audible and visible at all times, including to the public.
  • At the start of the meeting, require the chair to announce the names of any members of the public body participating remotely.
  • In the event audio or video coverage of a proceeding or meeting is interrupted, require the presiding official to suspend discussion until audio/video is restored.
  • Require all votes to be roll call votes.
  • At the beginning of any executive session, require all members of the public body to state that no other person is present or can hear them.
  • Record all open sessions of meetings and make such recordings available to the public via government website.

Any reduction in public participation in government proceedings must not be exploited by any political party or interest group for personal, partisan, or other political gain. The same rules of access must apply to everyday Americans and well-connected lobbyists. This is a time for our country to be united to protect each other as we face COVID-19, and that includes respecting and protecting public participation in and oversight of government.

We commend the Hawaii State Legislature and the City and County of Honolulu for their actions in putting the health, safety, and welfare of the public first in dealing with COVID-19. Now they need to show that they value democracy as much during these times of peril. Democracy still matters; it matters even more. In times of crisis, the public needs to have trust and faith in government. We must be extra vigilant to ensure we are acting in the public interest and in a way that is fully transparent and democratic.

Common Cause Hawaii is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest, promote equal rights, opportunity and representation for all. We work to empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.

Phone 808-275-2675. P.O. Box 2240 Honolulu, HI 96804

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