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Monday, March 13, 2000

Lingle files suit
to open meetings

The lawmakers' late
meetings are targeted

By Suzanne Tswei


Legislature 2000 Hawaii Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Lingle and State Representative David Pendleton filed a lawsuit today seeking an injunction ordering legislators to open closed-door conference committee meetings to the public.

The Circuit Court suit asks for a preliminary and permanent injunction against the long-standing tradition of closed last-minute meetings during the waning hours of the legislative session.

The suit also asks that the legislature leaders provide Lingle and Pendleton with a written report in 20 days to show that they are complying with the state constitution requirement for voting to be conducted in public.

Shirley Cavanaugh, Senate President Norman Mizuguchi's spokeswoman, declined comment today, saying that they have not received a copy of the lawsuit. House Speaker Calvin Say could not be reached for comment.

Lingle said the Republicans would be willing to drop the suit if the Legislature opens the meetings.

"We are asking for not just talk. We are asking for action. All we are asking for is that we follow the Constitution," Pendleton said.

"This back-room decision making has gone on for too long," Lingle said. "Ten years ago the House was told by its own attorney that voting must take place in public. This kind of secret voting is not only unconstitutional, it's against the rules of both the House and the Senate."

State Attorney-designate Earl Anzai issued an opinion March 7, saying closed conference committees violate a 22-year-old provision of the state Constitution and should be ended. The opinion says that the committees must do their work at meetings open to the public.

Conference committees are made up of both House and Senate members who are assigned to work out differences between bills adopted by their respective bodies.

The opinion advises that the committees should take action on the bills only when a quorum of committee members is present and make decisions only by voting during public meetings.

Voting in secrecy is equivalent to "robbing the public of their right to know how decisions were reached," Lingle said.

Lingle noted that Mizuguchi has written a letter to to Say, saying it would be difficult to comply with the open meeting requirement.

Mizuguchi's letter said he favors "procedural changes that will improve public participation in the legislative process."

The letter also cited a series of problems, including making changes in an already hectic schedule to accommodate additional public meetings and being able to get the two Republican senators to all conference meetings.

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