2 laws govern
: Is it possible to explain what the "Sunshine Law" enables a member of the public to know and to what extent one can get information from government agencies? Does it apply to all levels of government?
Answer: It appears you might be confusing the state's open meetings law -- the so-called "Sunshine Law" -- with that of the state's public records law -- the Uniform Information Practices Act.
"A lot of people assume, when they say the 'Sunshine Law,' that it includes both our open meetings law, as well as our public records law," said Les Kondo, director of the state Office of Information Practices. "They're two separate statutes."
The "Sunshine Law" requires state and county boards to conduct their business as openly as possible. The Legislature said its intent, when passing the law, was for the provisions for open meetings "be liberally construed."
The affected boards are required to "discuss, deliberate and decide things in an open meeting," except for very specific purposes when they can exclude the public, Kondo said.
There are eight such exceptions, he said, including: if a board is going to consult with its attorney about its powers, duties, privileges, immunities and liabilities; if it is going to discuss a personnel matter where privacy might be an issue; or if the discussion will involve labor negotiations or negotiations over real property.
If a meeting is public, the board is required to make the minutes of the meeting available to the requester within 30 days of the meeting, Kondo said.
The "Sunshine Law" does not apply to the judicial or legislative branches of government, nor to any board that might be in an "adjudicatory" mode.
Meanwhile, the Uniform Information Practices Act, which Kondo described as the state's version of the federal Freedom of Information Act, outlines the kinds of government information and records that must be made public.
"The presumption is that every record that a government agency holds is public unless there is an exception in the statute that allows the agency to withhold the record," Kondo said.
Exceptions, for example, are if someone's privacy outweighs public interest or if disclosure would frustrate the government's ability to do its job, he said.
Kondo acknowledged that both statutes are "very general, very broad, very vague and subject to a lot of interpretations."
That's where his office is supposed to come in.
The Office of Information Practices administers the Uniform Information Practices Act (Modified, found in Chapter 92F of the Hawaii Revised Statutes) and advises and accepts complaints about the "Sunshine Law" (Part I of Chapter 92 of the HRS).
You can find copies of both laws on the OIP Web site at www.state.hi.us/oip.
A brochure explaining the "Sunshine Law" also is available at the OIP office, 250 S. Hotel St., Suite 107. Call 586-1400.
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