Civil Beat Editorial: Lawmakers Must Resist Any Effort To Undercut Hawaii’s Public Records Law

On the Friday before Christmas, the Hawaii Supreme Court issued a significant ruling in strong support of freedom of information.

It stems from a Civil Beat 2015 lawsuit that sought to access budget documents used to inform Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s spending plans for fiscal year 2016.

City officials denied the request, saying it would “frustrate a legitimate government function.” They cited the “deliberative process privilege,” an oft-implemented yet ambiguous public records exemption that, as it turns out, has long been abused.

On Dec. 22, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state Office of Information Practices — which administers our open records law, the Uniform Information Practices Act — had improperly cited the deliberative process privilege that had allowed agencies to deny records requests going back to 1989. The justices sent the case back to the lower court where we’ll see if the city plans to continue to fight the release of four-year-old budget documents.

Now it is the job of the Hawaii Legislature to strengthen that transparency and make sure that our public records law is not undermined by agencies seeking to end-run the high court, in this legislative session or those in the future. (Read more…)