Hawaii Sunshine Law
The Hawaii Sunshine Law legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted. Part I of chapter 92 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes define the law.
Relevant legal cases
- See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA
Here is a list of open meetings lawsuits in Hawaii. For more information go the page or go to Hawaii sunshine lawsuits.
(The cases are listed alphabetically. To order them by year please click the icon to the right of the Year heading)
We do not currently have any pages on open meetings litigation in Hawaii.
Proposed open meetings legislation
We do not currently have any legislation for Hawaii in 2010.
Statement of purposeThe statement of purpose of the Open Meetings Act states,
"In a democracy, the people are vested with the ultimate decision-making power. Governmental agencies exist to aid the people in the formation and conduct of public policy. Opening up the governmental processes to public scrutiny and participation is the only viable and reasonable method of protecting the public's interest. Therefore, the legislature declares that it is the policy of this State that the formation and conduct of public policy - the discussions, deliberations, decisions, and action of governmental agencies - shall be conducted as openly as possible. To implement this policy the legislature declares that:
(1) It is the intent of this part to protect the people's right to know;
(2) The provisions requiring open meetings shall be liberally construed; and(3) The provisions providing for exceptions to the open meeting requirements shall be strictly construed against closed meetings."
Which government meetings are open to the public?
The law defines meetings as any gathering of a quorum of a public body.
Every meeting of all boards are open to the public with a few exceptions. The boards must allow anyone interested an opportunity to submit data, views, or arguments, in writing, on any agenda item. Attendees must be allowed to present oral testimony on any agenda item.
What government bodies are subject to the laws?
The act defines government body as all boards or committees of the state and all its political subdivisions which were created by law or executive order and serve in active or advisory capacity with regard to public policy.
Notable exemptions to the definition of public body include:
- Judicial branch
- When the following boards exercise adjudicatory functions:
- Hawaii labor relations board
- Labor and industrial relations appeals board
- Hawaii paroling authority
- Civil service commission
- Board of trustees, employees' retirement system of the State of Hawaii
- Crime victim compensation commission
- State ethics commission
The act also states that the legislature's rules may supersede the Hawaii Sunshine Law.
Interactions between members
A meeting between two members of a board to discuss board business-related matters is permitted as long as the meeting's purpose is to perform duties faithfully and they make and seek no commitment to vote. This is also only allowed if the two members do not make up a voting majority of their board.
In this case, the two members can be investigating something related to their board's official as long as the scope that they are investigating is stated at the meeting of the board, the results that they find are presented at a meeting of the board, and any deliberation and decision-making on the investigation occurs only at a properly noticed board meeting.
These two members meeting outside of a board meeting may present, discuss, or negotiate any board-adopted position as long as the topics their talking about or undertaking and their individual scope of authority is defined at the board's meeting before they present, discuss or negotiate.
Two or more members of a board (as long as they're less than the number of voting major members) may meet in private to discuss the selection of the board's officers and they have no limitation to their discussions and they do not have to report subsequently.
The governor and one or more members of a board can meet in private for discussions without having limits or having to report subsequently. In this case, the discussion does not have to relate to a matter that the board has power over.
The head of the department and two or more members of a board may meet to discuss something that the board has administrative authority in private without limitation. This may only be the case if the discussion is limited to matters specified in section 26-35.
The legislature is explicitly exempted from the Hawaii Sunshine Law under Hawaii Statute §92-10.
The board must give written public notice of regular, special, or rescheduled meetings as well as executive meetings when they are anticipated in advance. The notice must include the agenda listing all of the expected items for the meeting, the date, time, and place of the meeting. In the case of an executive meeting, the notice must give the purpose.
The notice must be filed in the lieutenant governor's office or the county clerk's office, and in the board's office, available to the public, at least 6 calendar days before the meeting. The notice must also be posted at the meeting site whenever feasible.
No board can change the filed agenda by adding items without a 2/3 vote of all board members as long as no item will be added to the agenda if it is of reasonably major importance and action thereon by the board will affect a significant number of persons. Items of reasonably major importance not decided at a scheduled meeting will only be considered at a meeting continued to a reasonable day and time.
The board must keep a list of names and addresses of people who request notification of meetings and must mail a copy of the notice to these people no later than the time the agenda is filed.
If a board sees that there is an imminent peril to the public health, safety, or welfare and requires a meeting in less time than the public notice requirements allow, the board can hold an emergency meeting as long as:
- The board states in writing the reasons for the emergency
- 2/3 of all board members agree that an emergency exists
- An emergency agenda and the reasons are filed with the lieutenant governor office or the county clerk's office, and in the board's office
- People who have requested notification are contacted by mail or telephone as soon as practicable
If an unanticipated event requires a board to take action on a matter that it has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power over, within less time than the notice law requires and convene a meeting of the board, the board can hold an emergency meeting to deliberate and decide whether and how to act in response to the unanticipated event as long as:
- The board states in writing the reasons for the unanticipated event has occurred and that an emergency meeting is necessary and the attorney general concurs that the conditions necessary for an emergency meeting under this subsection exist
- 2/3 of all members to which the board is entitled agree that the conditions necessary for an emergency meeting under this subsection exist
- The reasons and the agenda for the emergency meeting under this subsection are filed with the lieutenant governor office or the county clerk's office, and in the board's office
- Persons requesting notification on a regular basis are contacted by mail or telephone as soon as practicable
- The board limits its action to only that action which must be taken on or before the date that a meeting would have been held, had the board given proper notice of the meeting.
An "unanticipated event" means:
- An event which board members didn't have sufficient advance knowledge of or reasonably could not have known about from information published by the media or information generally available in the community
- A deadline established by a legislative body, a court, or a federal, state, or county agency beyond the control of a board
- A consequence of an event for which reasonably informed and knowledgeable board members couldn't have taken all necessary action.
The board must keep written minutes of all meetings. Unless otherwise required by law, the board is not required to have a full transcript or a recording of the meeting, but the written minutes must give a true reflection of the matters discussed at the meeting and the views of the participants. The minutes must include, but are not to the following:
- The date, time and place of the meeting
- The members of the board recorded as either present or absent
- The substance of all matters proposed, discussed, or decided, and a record, by individual member, of any votes taken
- Any other information that any member of the board requests be included or reflected in the minutes.
The minutes are public records and must be available within 30 days after the meeting, except where where that would be illegal, as long as minutes of executive meetings may be withheld. This is only possible so long as their publication would defeat the lawful purpose of the executive meeting, but no longer.
All or any part of a meeting, any attendee can tape record or use sonic reproduction, except in a legally closed meeting, as long as the recording does not actively interfere with the conduct of the meeting.
|Common executive session exemptions|
|Personal privacy (including employees)|
|Purchase or sale of property|
|Exempt under other laws|
A board can hold a meeting closed to the public after taking an affirmative 2/3 vote of present members at an open meeting, where they must announce the purpose of the closed meeting. This is only possible if the affirmative vote constitutes a majority of all board members. A meeting closed to the public must be limited to the following matters:
- To consider personal information for applicants and employees
- Labor negotiations
- To consult with attorneys
- To investigate criminal misconduct
- When discussing sfety matters
- When discussing private donations
- To discuss information exempt by federal law
The act permits public bodies to call close meetings if they deem that the location of the meeting is not safe to open the meeting up to the public. The board must elect to hold a limited meeting with a 2/3 vote at an open meeting. It must announce the limited meeting and records the entire meeting. The recording must be made available to the public. The board is not permitted to make any decisions at the meeting.
If the written public notice is filed in the office of the lieutenant governor or the county clerk's office less than six calendar days before the meeting, the lieutenant governor or the county clerk will immediately notify the chairperson of the board, or the director of the department of the board, of the violation. The meeting will then be canceled, the chairperson or the director will ensure that a notice canceling the meeting is posted at the place of the meeting, and no meeting will be held.
Violations of the open meetings law are considered misdemeanors and punishable by appropriate penalties. Courts may void any actions taken at an illegal meeting and award attorney fees for the individual who filed the suit.
State of Hawaii
|State executive officers||
Governor | Lieutenant Governor | Attorney General | Secretary of State | Director of Finance | State Auditor | Superintendent of Education | Hawaii Director of Commerce and Consumer Affairs | Commissioner of Agriculture | Chairperson of Land and Natural Resources | Director of Labor and Industrial Relations | Chair of Public Utilities |