No Sunshine on this Cloudy Day

While the House Committee on Health had ample opportunity to let the Honolulu Star-Advertiser know that HB631 would be granted a hearing tomorrow (Wednesday, February 18th), the committee itself could not comply with the very rules that it imposes on itself to ensure that the public has at least 48-hours of notice.

House Rule 11.5 [1] clearly states:

Meetings, including decision-making sessions, of standing committees shall be public. Notice shall be publicly posted or announced on the House floor at least forty-eight hours prior to the meeting. Except for notices posted by the Committee on Finance, notice shall be posted before 4:30 p.m. on the last day of the work week for a hearing to be held on the following Monday or Tuesday.

Rep. Della Au Belatti

While the same rule provides for shortening the period for “good cause”, it grows both increasingly tiresome and increasingly suspicious that advocates are circumventing the 48-hour notice that has been enshrined in the House Rules so that the public has sufficient notice that a hearing is taking place.  What once might have been a forgivable mistake is starting to look more like a pattern of abuse.

Contrary to public perception, the Legislature has exempted itself from Sunshine Law, a provision that is intended to keep all other parts of government (state departments, neighborhood boards and city council meetings) transparent and the public informed.  The Legislature exempts itself because it operates on a short 60-day timetable where five days of notice is prohibitive to getting business done.  However, this provision also tends to be abused when legislators would prefer to keep the public in the dark.

While the bill is slated only for decision-making, the contempt and disdain for both transparency and open government appears part and parcel of Scott Saiki’s crusade for “open” and “transparent” government – that which was promised as part of the vacuous House Majority Package. There was ample time to notify the news media [2] that this bill was being heard, but not enough time to properly file or amend it on hearing notice. [3]

Rep. Chris Lee

While the oversight may seem petty at face value, the underlying message is quite clear: certain House Democrats (Chris Lee, Della Belatti) are more interested in the news media and publicity and less concerned with transparency and due process. [4, 5]

Couple this with an attempt to shroud campaign donors under a veil of secrecy and House Leadership is scoring fewer points on the transparency card than the UH football team could muster in four quarters. If the last football season was any indication, I am sure we can expect a similarly disappointing performance from the House of Representatives this season.

[1] With their  devotion to transparency and openness in government, ruling Democrats have failed to update the House Rules on the Capitol website.  The excerpt shown is from the 2013-14 House Rules, and is expected to be identical to what is contained in the 2015 rules.

[2] Enough notice was given for Gordon Pang to draft an entire article on the bill (in time for it to be printed and to be posted online at 1:30AM) where he also stated “The House Health Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday.”

[3] Notice of the email advising the amended hearing notice was time-stamped at 9:00AM on Tuesday, less than 24-hours in advance of the hearing.

[4] (Blogger’s note, added after posting) A whopper of a tale would have to be told for this to not be true. This includes arriving at a decision to hear the bill on the Wednesday agenda after ‘normal’ work hours. During these ‘after’ hours, Gordon Pang would have to be notified of the intent to hear HB631, gather his facts, draft and edit and submit his article before the 8:00PM deadline for print. Those familiar with the print news cycle will note that while this is not impossible, it is also highly unlikely without extraordinary help or exceptions being made. A whopper of a tale indeed, and highly unlikely.

[5] (Blogger’s note, added after posting) the alternate theory of human error is muh more plausible but equally damning. Perhaps a product of an honest mistake, a staffer forgets to add HB621 to the original notice or to amend the notice in a much more timely fashion.  While erring is human, the Legislature and the public at-large would be better served if the same level of attention was paid to their responsibilities as legislators as the grooming of their public image via the news media.

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