Once again, the State Office of Information Practices (OIP) thanks everyone who provided comments on its proposal to amend the Sunshine Law to allow boards to conduct what have been popularly referred to as “virtual” meetings, which our latest proposal now refers to as “remote” meetings. OIP has received many good comments, and a third draft of the bill and the justification sheet summarizing the revised proposal have been posted on OIP’s Legislation page at oip.hawaii.gov.
The most substantive change in the third draft is to add an additional section that will continue to explicitly recognize meetings at multiple in-person sites connected using interactive conference technology as currently allowed under the Sunshine Law, so that boards would have three options in how to conduct public meetings under the Sunshine Law: (1) in the traditional manner with all participants in person at a single site; (2) in an in-person meeting with board members and other participants physically present at multiple meeting sites connected using interactive conference technology; or (3) in a remote meeting using interactive conference technology to connect board members and other participants from non-public physical locations, with at least one public meeting site where people can attend in person to testify or view the remote meeting using the equipment provided by the board.
The bill has been restructured so that option two amends HRS 92-3.5, the section currently allowing meetings at multiple in-person sites connected using interactive conference technology, to continue to explicitly recognize the use of interactive conference technology to connect multiple in-person meeting sites. As is currently the law, option two does not require boards to provide for remote participation by the public, and does not allow remote participation by board members unless they are unable to attend the meeting in person due to disability or illness. Nevertheless, under option two, boards could connect multiple in-person meeting sites to provide greater and more convenient public access between islands or parts thereof. Option two will be particularly useful when a board may not have sufficient internet bandwidth, staffing, or resources to effectively administer an online meeting or to accommodate a potentially large, world-wide audience that could possibly disrupt or overwhelm an online meeting and drown out the voices of residents in Hawaii’s communities.
Option three is essentially what OIP proposed in its earlier draft, which is now reorganized into new sections of the Sunshine Law. Under option three, boards could conduct “remote” online meetings, so long as there is one physical location where people can testify and participate in person, as not everyone as the equipment, means, ability, or desire to attend meetings online.
In addition to the public meeting sites, the bill recognizes what OIP has previously referred to as “courtesy” sites, which are additional sites open for the public’s convenience that are connected to the public meeting using interactive conference technology but where (in the case of option two) no board member will be present. If the connection to these additional sites is lost, the public meeting itself would not necessarily have to be recessed or terminated.
While all public meeting options require at least one physical location to conduct a public meeting in person, they are intended to operate under “normal” circumstances without an ongoing pandemic or other emergency, when traditional in-person meetings are safe and viable. The bill does not change the Governor’s ability to issue emergency orders suspending all or portions of laws, such as an in-person meeting requirement, if the pandemic continues or other emergencies arise.
OIP looks forward to receiving your comments on the latest proposal by December 2, 2020, via email to [email protected] with the subject line “comments for draft 3.” OIP apologizes for the short time frame for your comments, but there is very little time left to submit OIP’s proposal for possible inclusion in the Administration’s legislative package for next session. Mahalo for your understanding and continued engagement in this process.