Posted on May 28, 2002 in Formal Opinions

Opinion Letter No. 02-02
May 28, 2002
Limits on Oral Testimony at County Council Meetings

Common Cause Hawaii filed a complaint regarding oral testimony at Honolulu City Council (“Council”) meetings.

Two issues were involved: (1) whether the Council’s practice of allowing oral testimony at public meetings only if persons wishing to testify sign up by a certain time is allowed under chapter 92, Hawaii Revised Statutes (“Sunshine Law”); and (2) whether the Council’s practice of placing time limits on oral testimony is allowed under the Sunshine Law.

On the first issue, requiring persons wishing to testify to sign up by a certain time, the OIP found that oral testimony must be allowed even if a person wishing to testify did not sign up. The Sunshine Law requires that boards shall afford all interested persons an opportunity to present oral testimony on any agenda item; and that boards may provide for reasonable administration of oral testimony by rule. Haw. Rev. Stat. § 92-3 (1993).

In light of the fact that the law allows “all interested persons” to present oral testimony, the OIP does not believe it is reasonable under section 92-3, Hawaii Revised Statutes, to require testifiers to sign up by a certain time. Such a requirement would preclude all latecomers from testifying orally, as well as those who are not familiar with Council rules.

This is not to say that boards cannot request that persons wishing to testify orally sign up by a certain time in the interests of time management. After all those who signed up have testified, boards should inquire whether any other audience members wish to testify orally, and should not preclude such persons from testifying. If time is running short, boards have the option of continuing meetings in accordance with section 92-7(b), Hawaii Revised Statutes.

On the second issue, placing time limits on oral testimony, the Sunshine Law allows boards to provide for reasonable administration of oral testimony by rule. Haw. Rev. Stat. § 92-3 (1993). So long as the Council’s time restrictions on testimony meet the requirements of the Sunshine Law and the Freedom of Speech and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution, the Council may put reasonable time limits on oral testimony pursuant to rules adopted under section 92-3, Hawaii Revised Statutes.

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