Tuesday, January 19, 1999

Service provides
public access to
what’s going on

Interested citizens and lobbyists
have a way to keep up with
the legislative action

Online directory to
legislators and their offices
By Pat Omandam


As a lobbyist and government affairs manager at GST Telecomm Hawaii, Lisa Suan often relied last year on the Public Access Room at the state Legislature to track bills and committee hearings.

So when the 1999 session starts tomorrow, you'll know where to find her.

1999 Hawaii State Legislature "I think it's great," Suan said. "I don't know how I would survive without it."

As the only one of its kind in the 50 states, the Public Access Room has become Oahu's gathering place for the public during the legislative session.

Last year, 4,000 people used the fourth-floor Capitol space, while an additional 6,000 seeking help reached staffers by telephone, said Kimo L.D. Brown, public access coordinator at the Legislature.

Brown said the access room is often the last resort for people who have been shunted from office to office in state government, searching for answers. The room is a division of the Legislative Reference Bureau, the legislature's library.

"We have a policy here that either we will get you the answer, or we will go out and find the person who has the answer you need, and we will send you right to them," Brown said.

For starters, the access room serves as the information office for the Legislature. It can answer any public questions about the Legislature, its process, or the session calendar.

But what makes it unique, Brown said, is that it serves as the workplace for the public, providing free use of typewriters, computers, access to the Internet -- as well as staples, paper, rubber bands, pens, pencils, highlighters and other office aid. Most work focuses on preparing testimony, researching bills and writing letters.

Last year, the room made 135,000 photocopies for the public. The office also conducts in-house and community workshops on the legislative process, Brown said.

"We know that there are no other places in the building set aside specifically for the public, except for the library," said Brown, whose mother was an office manager for several Republican senators in the 1960s and '70s.

This session, the Public Access Room is expecting much more use in cyberspace, as it went online three weeks ago with a Web page.

The new site -- http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov -- includes the full text of bills, resolutions, hearing notices, orders of the day, legislative documents and committee reports. Also there, for what Brown said is the first time anywhere are the full volumes of the Hawaii Revised Statutes.

A citizens group last year helped design the Web page to ensure it had what the public wanted.

"Anyone with a computer and a modem can find out what's going on in the Legislature," said Larry Meacham, Common Cause Hawaii executive director, who with Suan were among the site's designers. He noted that when L'ektra Anderson, his Common Cause predecessor, headed a coalition of citizen groups to start the Public Access Room, there initially was no funding. Now it runs on a $92,000 annual budget.

How to find it, where to call

Office hours

Key information on the Public Access Room of the state Legislature, on the fourth floor of the state Capitol, room 401:

bullet Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, with special extended hours during legislative deadlines and holidays

bullet Telephone: 1-800-587-0478; neighbor islands can call toll-free. From the Big Island, call 974-4000; Maui, 984-2400, and Kauai, 274-3141. Molokai and Lanai can call 1-800-468-4644. From all islands, enter ext. 70478 after the telephone number

bullet Fax: 1-800-587-0793

bullet E-mail: par@capitol.hawaii.gov

bullet ACCESS Computer Information System: 296-4636

bullet Audio ACCESS (automated bill status): Oahu, 586-7000. Neighbor islands dial toll-free number above, then ext. 67000

Computer tracking

Each legislator has a state-assigned e-mail address (see Page 12). In addition, here are key Web sites to monitor the session or to access government information:

bullet Hawaii State Legislature: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov

bullet Public Access Room: http://www.hawaii.gov/lrb/par/

bullet Legislative Reference Bureau: http://www.hawaii.gov/lrb/

bullet Hawaii State Government: http://www.hawaii.gov

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