Wednesday | October 18, 2017
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Counties may put a lid on Sunshine

A bill allowing county council members to discuss issues at meetings and events without public notice will be considered for the second time Tuesday, when a Hawaii County Council committee takes up a package of 14 measures some counties want the state Legislature to pass.

The bill, sponsored by the Maui County Council, is part of the Hawaii State Association of Counties package to be presented to the Legislature for the regular 2014 session that starts in January.

It would create an exemption to the state Sunshine Law so that more than two council members could attend meetings and discuss issues that could come up on future council agendas, as long as the meeting is open to the public. The Maui Council unanimously approved the measure, with one council member absent, on Aug. 20.

The Maui Council said in its resolution that allowing council members to discuss issues outside a noticed public meeting would help the council better serve constituents in a more “well-informed, transparent and responsive manner.”

The Hawaii County Council Committee on Governmental Relations and Economic Development will vote on the package at its meeting that begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday in council chambers in Hilo. The public can testify on the bills in Hilo, or at videoconference sites at the West Hawaii Civic Center, the Waimea council office, former Bank of Hawaii building in Kohala, Hawaiian Ocean View Estates Community Center or Pahoa Neighborhood Facility.

The resolution carves out an exception to the Sunshine Law by saying, “Members of a county council may jointly attend and speak at a community, educational or informational meeting or presentation, including a meeting of another entity, legislative hearing, convention, seminar, conference or community meeting, without limitation, provided that the meeting or presentation is open to the public.”

The package of proposed bills has been making the rounds of the counties, with various county councils not liking this bill or that bill, but all seeming to be in favor of the Sunshine Law exemption.

The Sunshine Law exemption is one of only five of the bills that all councils have so far agreed upon, said Honolulu Councilman Stanley Chang, secretary of HSAC and introducer of the measures to the Honolulu Council.

That council’s committee gave a favorable recommendation Thursday without commenting on the Sunshine measure, he said. All four counties must approve each bill in the package for it to become part of the HSAC package.

At least two Hawaii County Council members have reservations about the bill.

Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi, who is HSAC vice president, said Thursday that he understands how the bill has some council support.

“The Sunshine Law does restrict council members from attending a community meeting or a workshop that might become board business, but it’s an issue that could go both ways,” Onishi said. “Personally, I would not support it.”

South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford opposes the measure.

“This goes way too far, in my opinion,” Ford said at the Oct. 15 meeting, where the committee voted 4-1 to postpone the package to give other counties time to go through the issues. Ford was the lone dissenter.

In addition to the Sunshine Law exemption, other bills include two introduced by the City and County of Honolulu that would require helmets statewide for motorcycle and motor scooter drivers and all mo-ped riders. Chang said the Honolulu Council Intergovernmental Affairs and Human Services Committee struck those two measures on Thursday.

Other bills will give counties a greater share of the transient accommodations tax, allow county residents to testify at state legislative hearings via videoconferencing, reduce liability for lifeguards, enable the state and counties to maintain roads in limbo without incurring liability, urge the federal government to loosen visa restrictions on Chinese visitors and add county representatives to the boards of trustees for the Employees’ Retirement System and the Hawaii Employer Union Health Benefits Trust.

The package also includes $2.8 million for a primary care training program at Hilo Medical Center and $38 million for the Daniel K. Inouye School of Pharmacy Building at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.