It’s times like this when I wish I had finished law school, or perhaps married a lawyer, or had my children grow up to be lawyers, or had a bunch of money and could just hire a bunch of lawyers.
There are some days, as in today when I just want to take the legislature to court and force them to follow the law.
How is it that they can just violate the State Constitution with no repercussions?
I recently attended in a virtual manner, a Senate committee hearing and testified via Zoom along with a dozen or so other members of the public. When the testimony was concluded, the Chair of the committee, stated and I will paraphrase, “Unless any members want to go into a ‘break-out room’ and discuss this further, I will go now into decision-making.”
At that point, a member of the committee raised their hand and stated, “Yes, I would like us to go into a break-out room and discuss this further.”
The Chair then called a recess, and the committee proceeded to meet virtually in private in the “Zoom break-out room”. The rest of us members of the public remained outside in the regular Zoom room, unaware of what was being discussed in private by the committee members.
In the old days, when rooms were actually rooms, the same committee would just exit the main committee room and go into the back hallway to talk in private. But in the days of Zoom, no one has to walk anywhere and it’s all done virtually with the click of a button.
In any case, on this day for this “public hearing”, this committee went into their private Zoom room to have their private meeting to discuss in private the pending decision they were about to make.
Ten minutes or so later, the Chair reconvened the public Zoom meeting and announced the decision of the committee (that the committee had presumably just discussed and agreed to in private).
To restate and to be absolutely clear: A committee of the Hawaii State Senate went into a private room that the public was not allowed to enter, for the purpose of making a decision on matters that had been referred to that committee.
Yet the Hawaii State Constitution Article III – Section 12 states: “Every meeting of a committee in either house or of a committee comprised of a member or members of both houses held for the purpose of making a decision on matters referred to the committee shall be open to the public.”
While the above describes one particular public hearing that occurred a week or so ago, this is something that happens regularly in both the Senate and the House. Secret meetings in private rooms deciding the people’s business is standard operating procedure at the Capitol.
It’s part of the culture.
It doesn’t mean that the players are criminals in the conventional sense (though some clearly are). It mostly means they prefer to speak frankly to each other and that’s easier to do when the camera is off and the public is locked out of the room.
I get it. I totally understand the rationale actually. But it’s not in the public’s best interest, and it’s against the law.
Either legislative leadership is unaware of the provisions contained in Article III – Section 12 of the State Constitution or they have chosen to ignore it.
The path of choice would be for “leadership” in the House and Senate to just change their internal rules and practices, and follow the spirit, intent, and explicit language contained in the Constitution. The other way is to “take’em to court”. Any lawyers out there want to weigh in and help?