Wednesday, March 17, 1999

Official supports
bill to close parts of
state board meetings

By Pat Omandam


Legislature '99 Members of state boards and commissions have a "sixth sense" when a meeting can be closed to the public and would not abuse a reason to go behind closed doors, says state Deputy Attorney General Charlene M. Aina.

Aina yesterday assured the Senate Judiciary Committee a House bill allowing boards to close meetings to discuss confidential information would not leave the public locked out. Rather, it would encourage boardroom discussion.

"In those kinds of instances, the discussion would be fuller and more complete if some of these kinds of confidential information could be shared by the board members," she said.

House Bill 996 would allow boards and commission to close a public meeting to make decisions using information deemed confidential by a state or federal law, or a court order. Those include protective orders, trade secrets, Child Protective Services reports and arrest records, Aina said.

The amendment is needed, Aina said, because there is nothing in the Sunshine Law acknowledging that decision-making by boards and commissions often relies on confidential information in documents. As a result, boards must weigh the use of these documents against the risk of revealing confidential information in them at open meetings, she said.

If approved, however, it would be the second consecutive year the state Legislature has added exceptions to the opening meeting requirement of the Sunshine law. Last year, lawmakers approved an amendment that allows boards and commissions to hold secret meetings when private donations are discussed.

Yesterday, Judiciary Co-Chairman Matt Matsunaga (D, Palolo) questioned whether there were safeguards to ensure a board doesn't discuss an entire meeting in secret if, for example, only one of five agenda items falls under the proposed confidential information exception.

"What language in here would prevent the board from keeping the whole meeting -- all five items on the agenda -- closed to the public?" Matsunaga said.

Aina responded board members will vote on each agenda item separately and will close the meeting only for those that apply to the exception. The committee will vote on the measure Friday.

Under the Sunshine Law, which is Hawaii Revised Statutes 92-5, there are seven purposes a board can close a public meeting: to evaluate personal information of applicants of professional or vocational licenses; to hire, evaluate, dismiss or discipline employees; labor negotiations or the acquisition of public lands; consultation with an attorney; to investigate criminal misconduct; public safety and security; and the solicitation and acceptance of private donations.

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