Don’t close door on council meetings
The Senate has approved a bill that would allow state and county board members less than a quorum to meet behind closed doors.
State legislators fought back an assault by counties on the open-meetings law two years ago but are poised in this session to allow secrecy to prevail. A Senate-passed bill would allow members of county councils and other county and state boards to meet behind closed doors for any reason as long as they don't constitute a quorum. The House should reject the proposal.
The 33-year-old law allows two members of a board -- but no more than that -- to converse about "board business" away from the public. It includes some exceptions for meeting of board members comprising less than a quorum, such as talking, under certain circumstances, about an issue that already has been decided by the board.
A bill approved last week by a Senate vote of 21-3 would allow any number of board members short of a quorum to talk business as long as they don't commit themselves to a vote; special circumstances could be ignored. In his dissent, Democratic Sen. Les Ihara of Kaimuki said the proposal would turn Hawaii from "a strict sunshine law state" to a "quorum state."
In Senate testimony, Paul T. Tsukiyama, director of the state Office of Information Practices, warned that the proposal "represents a major policy shift" that lacks "safeguards to protect the public's right to know." If enacted, he said, "it will essentially allow any number of less than a quorum of board members to discuss any official board business in private with the only condition being that no commitment to vote be made or sought."
No safeguards were added to the proposal, which should be rejected by the House as a flagrant attempt to close the door to the public.
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