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Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Full Text: 18 Hawaii Groups call for greater openness at Legislature
By News Release @ 2:26 PM :: 6264 Views :: Energy, Environment

LEGISLATIVE PROCESS IDEAS – LETTER FROM 18 CITIZEN ORGANIZATIONS

Dear President Tsutsui,          11/19/10

We are looking forward to working with you in the 2011 legislative session. As you know, our organizations care deeply about improving public participation in government. We commend the legislature for improvements in public access in recent years. However, we feel there is a lot more that needs to be done.  It is still very difficult for ordinary citizens to keep up with what is happening at the State Capitol if they cannot be there regularly in person. In essence, this excludes those on neighbor islands and those who are busy during the day with work, school, or family from participating in the legislative process.

For the coming session, we ask the legislature to adopt the following rules/practices that would make the legislative process more open and participatory for all of us.

1) Broadcast more legislative proceedings and post them on the web. We applaud the Senate for making selected hearings available on-demand on the web. We urge the Senate to webcast even more hearings, particularly those of interest to the public. Citizens must have a way to see the deliberations and decision making process.  We believe this is important enough to invest additional resources for the sake of improving transparency at the legislature. If the cost of posting additional video is prohibitive, even just the audio (which is already transmitted through the Capitol building) would be a step in the right direction.  Without the ability to watch the hearings and floor sessions, a huge segment of our population is excluded from observing the legislative process. Furthermore, with fewer newspapers and TV news outlets in town, there is reduced news coverage about the legislature and citizens are further removed from the process. We ask that you take the opportunity to address this problem by using the technology we have at our disposal today.

2) Give more notice for all legislative hearings—at least three business days (exclude holidays and weekends). The legislature moves very quickly, and the issues are often very complex. More lead time will allow for more citizens and organizations to submit meaningful testimony. Currently the Senate requires three calendar days notice (for the first committee only) and the House requires only two days notice. Even a small increase in hearing notice can make a big difference in getting more people to learn and participate.  We recognize that the legislative calendar is tight, but we feel this is an important change for the legislature to consider.  With the existing short notice, it makes it extremely difficult for ordinary citizens to write testimony and almost impossible to rearrange their work or personal schedules so that they may attend a hearing. We ask the legislature to give more notice and explore any other ways to make it easier for citizens to provide their input.  Furthermore, in the emergency situations when hearing notice requirements need to be waived, the legislative body should take a recorded vote on the waiver to ensure accountability for implementing these rules.

3) Proposed bill amendments should be posted online ASAP. We applaud the legislature's successes in posting many documents online. But often at the legislature, major changes are made to large and complicated bills, and citizens do not get the opportunity to examine the amendments in depth.  Proposed amended versions are sometimes (but not consistently) available online, and at other times they are not available to the public until much later in the process. In some instances, proposed amendments are only available in hard copy by visiting the committee chair’s office. This makes it impossible for those who cannot be at the Capitol to see the proposed amendments. When a proposed bill amendment is made available in hard copy in a Capitol office or distributed at a hearing, it should also be posted online immediately for citizens to access electronically.  We have observed committee chairs distributing hard copies of bill amendments at the end of committee hearings.  Such amendments clearly have been prepared in advance of the testimony (though we understand that they might be further amended based on testimony) and should be available to the public and to committee members before the hearing.

4) Committee reports on legislative measures should include a list of all organizations or agencies testifying on the topic. Historically, this information was always listed in committee reports, but the Senate has dropped this practice.  This makes it more difficult for the reader to identify those who supported or opposed the bill. The Senate should make it more accessible to readers by continuing the very useful practice of listing all entities for and against each measure. 

Thank you very much for your consideration of these proposals. We welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues with you further; please contact Nikki Love at Common Cause Hawaii, 275-6275 or nlove@commoncausehawaii.org.

Sincerely,

  • AARP Hawaii
  • ACLU of Hawaii
  • Americans for Democratic Action / Hawaii
  • Blue Planet Foundation
  • Citizen Voice
  • Citizens for Equal Rights
  • Common Cause Hawaii
  • Conservation Council for Hawaii
  • Grassroot Institute
  • Hawaii Pro-Democracy Initiative
  • Kanu Hawaii
  • League of Women Voters of Hawaii
  • Life of the Land
  • Media Council Hawaii
  • Progressive Democrats of Hawaii
  • Right to Know Committee
  • Sierra Club, Hawaii Chapter
  • Voter Owned Hawaii

cc: All Senators

AP: 18 groups ask Hawaii legislators to make Capitol more open

Shapiro: Groups ask Legislature to open it up

PDF: House and Senate letters

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