Public may not see our email, legislators say
Hawaii News

Public may not see our email, legislators say

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A top Hawaii lawmaker is delaying a public-records request because of a dispute that could hold up similar requests for years. The outcome will likely determine whether legislators can withhold emails, calendars and other information from the public, which watchdog groups see as crucial to government accountability. Senate President Ron Kouchi spoke with reporters Jan. 25 after Gov. David Ige’s State of the State address during a news conference at the state Capitol.

A top Hawaii lawmaker is delaying a public-records request because of a dispute that could hold up similar requests for years. The outcome will likely determine whether legislators may withhold emails, calendars and other information from the public, which watchdog groups see as crucial to government accountability.

The Associated Press recently sought emails and schedules of legislative leaders in all 50 states, and the request was met with more denials than approvals. Some lawmakers claimed legislative immunity from the public-records laws that apply to most state officials, while others said secrecy is essential to making laws.

But a response from the Hawaii Senate president stood out because the reason for not providing records was a pending appeal of a different records request, suggesting the Senate could be walling off similar information requests for a year or more.

The issue began when a nonprofit group asked for copies of communications between several senators, representatives and the agriculture industry on pesticides and genetically engineered crops, sensitive topics in Hawaii.

Two representatives denied the request, so the group — the Center for Food Safety — appealed its case to the state office that resolves disagreements about access to government records.

Hawaii law states that all government records are open to the public unless access is restricted by law. There are exceptions allowed in state law for certain records, including draft working papers of legislative committees and personal files of members of the Legislature, meaning those can be withheld from the public.

The House and Senate are treated the same way in the public-records law, and their lawyers’ arguments in the Center for Food Safety case show a shared interest in limiting the amount of public records lawmakers are obliged to provide.

According to Amy van Saun, legal fellow for the Center for Food Safety, senators provided limited information in response to the group’s request, while two representatives denied the request entirely, prompting the center to appeal both denials.

When the Associated Press asked for emails and calendars of Senate President Ronald Kouchi, a Senate attorney said in a letter that Kouchi wasn’t able to respond because of the pending appeals involving the Center for Food Safety, adding that the appeals are likely to determine the legislators’ rights and obligations under the state Constitution and open-records laws.

Kouchi and the attorney declined, through spokeswoman Jill Kuramoto, several requests made over a week to answer follow-up questions about the letter, including whether the Senate planned to delay all public-records requests until the completion of the pending appeals.

Arguing against the Center for Food Safety appeals, an attorney for the House of Representatives said that based on the state Constitution, individual legislators are immune from such requests. The Senate weighed in with letters making arguments similar to those of the House, saying any decision in the case would also affect the Senate.

The arguments made by the House prompted Brian Black, president and executive director of the Honolulu-based Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, to file a motion intervening in the Center for Food Safety case.

When resolved, the appeals involving the Center for Food Safety could determine what emails, communications and meeting information individual lawmakers are required to disclose to the public.

“The reason that Hawaii passed their public-records law is so that citizens can have some oversight to what the elected officials are doing,” van Saun said. “And when they completely deny that access, in violation of that law, it just begs the question, What are they trying so desperately to cover up?”

House Speaker Joseph Souki said the Legislature is excused from providing emails and personal records so lawmakers can talk freely with their constituents.

Black said he understands that argument but that it shouldn’t be relevant to the Center for Food Safety case because they’re asking for communications with lobbyists, not constituents.

Resolving the Center for Food Safety appeal will likely take a year or more, said Cheryl Kakazu Park, director of the state Office of Information Practices. The staff is working on finishing older cases, including two filed in 2013, she said. Once Park’s office is done with the appeals, either party can take up the matter with the courts, meaning further delays.

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  • The legislature can delay the production of their email, but they will need to produce it in the case of the Center For Food Appeal. The Attorney General should take steps to stop this action by the legislature.

    • Edit by Tempmanoa: The Attorney General should at the very least stop any destruction of email by legislators until this is resolved. If not then the attorneys for other groups should do the same.

      • Yes …All the voters that voted DEMOCRAT created this legislative monster by making this a one party system. With a two party system, there will be checks and balances. With a one party system they rule the roost and this is why corruption is rampant in government. Voters should really think twice their candidate when voting ..not if they are democrat or republican BUT their take on the issues.

        • You’re absolutely correct.

          So how does one change this toxic environment ?

          The Republican party remains in the shadow’s and are outnumbered.

      • Rather than getting the e-mails just go to CLUB EVERGREEN and meet the Legislators & Democrats in person.
        Its where they pass out the little brown envelopes of LUV to their favorite Girls

        • Absolutely true! UH administrators too, until theybAsian massage ladies bullied them into marriage

  • Hopefully the SA, which had had to fight for access to public information meant times over the years, will speak out in favor of the plaintiffs. This court case and the underlying issues are very important. Thanks for keeping us posted.

    • All state employee’s stuff should be publlic! When they go to work, they should go to work, not to cheat on loyal wives and then profess loyalty tand monogamy to monogamy-demanding, cheating sluts! What fools these staye employee men be!

  • Sunshine laws may have a limit but/and these legislators work for you and me and if they are truly ethical then they should have no problem with transparency. Trust is a shaky word these days … even after the oath is taken!!

  • “Arguing against the Center for Food Safety appeals, an attorney for the House of Representatives said that based on the state Constitution, individual legislators are immune from such requests.” Is this person saying that only ‘group’ emails need to be produced?

    How many Representatives doe it take to make an email? (Readers can finish the joke, but keep it clean.)

  • If it looks like D— and it smells like D—, then it must be D—. That is the legislature for you. It not for the people to know what they are doing. Too bad these arrogant fools keep getting elected.

  • Shades of Hillary Clinton, first the delays, then the scrubbing after the deletions and finally the release with incriminating element/data absent. Transparency?

  • This isn’t just about dems and repubs, this is about making laws in secret as a sign we have been converted to an oligarchy. Taxpayers have to submit to violations of our privacy through the patriot act, dark acts and other unknown acts at the federal level, state lawmakers want that “freedom” for themselves at the local level? These guys are sleazy sloppy and we should through all of these guys out of office and out of our islands.

  • Sorry, Mr. Speaker, but what’s the difference between a lobbyist and a constituent? A lobbyist could represent a constituent (business in your district). Why would those emails be subject to public disclosure but those with private citizens are not open? If it has to do with government business, it should be open. Be open about who you favor and who you dislike. Let it out, we’ll respect you more for it. What is there to hide? Whom are you really protecting?

  • Sad to say it is utterly clueless elected bureaucrats like Senate President Ronald Kouchi maintaining the Nei’s 8th world status.

    Ronny boy willfully fails understand he is a public servant paid with public tax dollars. As a public servant, everything he emails on either taxpayer paid for email or on private email which is related to their job is a matter of public record. As he mistakenly thinks he can hide his email, we immediately suspect he has been doing illegal work or guilty of corruption and fraud.

    As Ronny Boy is of low integrity, moral and ethical values and unable to meet the required high performance level of an elected bureaucrat, he should immediately resign. We have no time for substandard performance in public office.

  • Don’t you wonder about our elected officials ?

    ‘Roxie’ puts it in perspective”. One party rules the roost. No checks and balances.
    Legislators/council members also :

    Allow motorcyclist/mopeds to ride w/ out a helmet.

    Allow mopeds/motorcycles to modify their exhaust systems causing loud/excruciating noise. Don’t know what a decibel meter is. Neither does the captain of HPD.

    Allow people to ride in the back of an open pickup truck speeding down the freeway like screaming banshees – Then pass a seatbelt law making sure of the safety of the occupants in a car.

    Or the best one yet – Chair of the Lawmaker committee not hearing a bill on ‘TERM LIMITS’ for lawmakers.

  • This only PROVES that they have something to hide! If everythig was clean and aboveboard, there’d be no reason for disallowing the public’s viewing request!

    All the rigamarole just gives them time to delete and clean up their slimy doings. A solid bunch of Hillarys!!!

  • That is absolute rubbish! All e mails done on all state suppirted equipment and time should be subject to public records laws! Then you won’t have the knd of sex scandal that happened in Hawaii Hall! Even tho the two miscreants married and broke up all their families’ lives, those emails should be made public to show how aggressively and shamelessly the woman came after the man and his family! What were these legislators doing? Writing sexual e-mails? What do they have to hide? If you had a decent AG or even decent nvestigative reporters all this hidden stuff would come to light

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