Sunshine plus ADA bill clears first hurdle

A Senate bill that would give boards the option — in conjunction with in-person meetings — to use videoconferencing for public meetings under the state’s Sunshine Law, without a declared emergency, cleared its first House hurdle.

Senate Bill 1034, Senate Draft 1, was passed 9-0 Tuesday by the House Pandemic &Disaster Preparedness Committee.

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The committee made what Rep. Linda Ichiyama, an Oahu Democrat and the chairwoman, called “technical non-substantive amendments.”

Under those amendments, the measure would also require remote meetings held by interactive conference technology to recess for a maximum of an hour when audiovisual communication can’t be maintained by the board. Meetings would be reconvened only if audio communication can be reestablished within that time frame.

The legislation, which is part of Gov. David Ige’s bill package, would also allow for additional courtesy sites to be opened to the public for meeting videoconferencing. Those sites would be held to the same technical standards, including open captioning.

The bill generated 46 pages of written testimony, almost unanimously in support, but much of it expressing concerns or suggesting amendments.

Dorene Eddy, a program specialist with the Department of Consumer Affairs Professional Vocation Licensing Division, noted the division has numerous boards and commissions and holds about 25 meetings monthly, currently on Zoom. She added while the division supports the bill’s intent, there are personnel and resource concerns that additional remote sites could cause an “undue hardship.”

Brian Black, executive director of the nonprofit Civil Beat Law Center in the Public Interest, noted the stringent requirements for additional remote sites.

“If this is made too complicated for the boards to implement, they just won’t do it,” Black said. “They don’t have to do remote technology under this bill. And if you make it too hard for them, they’re just not going to do it.”

Black and Office of Information Practices Director Cheryl Kakazu Park also testified that OIP shouldn’t be tasked with enforcement of Americans With Disabilities Act requirements as the bill specified.

“OIP doesn’t have the expertise to do this,” Black said. “And so to put this on them is a significant strain when they are already working and having difficulty with the work that they already do with respect to government transparency.”

“Accessibility rights are already ensured under other state and federal laws administered by other agencies,” added Kakazu Park. “And OIP does not have the expertise or personnel to add another layer of administration or enforcement of such rights in the Sunshine Law itself. Adding these new requirements at the expense of having to terminate the official meeting if the accessible technology fails at the additional locations would discourage boards from conveniently expanding access for the public during remote meetings.”

Peter Fritz, a Honolulu lawyer with a hearing disability and a disability rights advocate, argued OIP should be responsible for ADA requirements in the bill, opining the agencies already tasked with enforcement aren’t doing an adequate job.

Fritz also had an issue with the idea that a meeting recessed because of technical difficulties could be reopened on an audio-only basis.

“If a meeting were to go to audio only, I’m totally knocked out of the box because I can’t always hear everybody who is testifying,” he said. “… I feel as an individual with a disability, I should be able to participate in any meeting, and I’m more than willing to make the arrangements to do so.”

One of the amendments the committee adopted was relieving OIP of ADA enforcement duties.

Noting “accessibility requirements are already covered under law,” Ichiyama said “ADA accessibility should be under the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission and not under OIP.”

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The bill has one more committee referral, the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee chaired by Rep. Mark Nakashima of Hamakua. As of late Friday afternoon, no hearing had been scheduled.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.