Hawaii Legislature has changed for the better since 1985

I ran into this oldie yesterday. It’s a little handout I wrote going into the 1985 legislative session while serving as executive director of Common Cause Hawaii. It describes a number of issues of access and openness that I felt needed to be addressed at the time. It’s just a single sheet of paper, folded so that it formats as four pages. It’s pretty discolored after nearly 30 years.


Just click on the title graphic to see the full report in pdf format.

In general, things at the legislature are dramatically more open and accessible than they were in 1985.

It’s still interesting to see what has changed and what remains problematic.

The changes.

Access to documents. While it was often difficult to obtain current documents during the session back in 1985, the current capitol website give anyone with a computer quick access to the latest records, including testimony and committee reports, as well as a whole range of reports submitted to the legislature by various agencies. The printshop is no longer a bottleneck slowing public access to documents.

Access to budget. In 1985, the budget was considered confidential, and the public had no access to detailed budget worksheets as legislators negotiated over each line item. Today, the budget and the worksheets are available online.

Neighbor island access. With the ability to access documents via the capitol website, view selected committee hearings live via online streaming, and submit testimony by email, neighbor island residents can track bills and issues as easily as residents of Oahu. It’s a whole new world.

Committees no longer meet in secret. It was common back in the 1980s for the money committees to meet in closed sessions, which were allied “strategy sessions” or “briefings” in an attempt to distinguish them from committee meetings, which are required to be open to the public. This is no longer a routine occurrence.

And things that have not changed.

Arbitrary power of committee chairs, who still have “wide discretion to deny measures a public hearing.

Closed caucuses.

Some documents still not readily available, including proposed amendments to bills.

One response to “Hawaii Legislature has changed for the better since 1985

  1. No discussion of the evolution of public access to the legislative process in Hawaii would be complete without SOME mention of thje Public Access Room, a division of the non-partisan Legislative Regference Bureau.

    Apparently the only operation of its kind in the nation, PAR has for twenty years facilitated citizen participation in the legislative process with training, publications, and perhaps most importantly, an office at the Capitol with computers, informed and helpful staff, and the support the average citizen needs to wade into the maze that is public policy making.

    Their website can be accessed at http://hawaii.gov/lrb/par/ and their phone number is 587-0478.

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