Rooted in Reason: Nurturing the Seeds of Liberty


If you want information, ask nicely, and once. by grassroothawaii
May 13, 2010, 12:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

By Jamie Story

Well, our infamous lawmakers have put Hawaii on the national news yet again. This article, featured today on Drudge Report, tells of a new Hawaii law that allows government agencies to simply not respond to “duplicative requests” for public information. Marketed primarily as a way to combat a plethora of birth certificate requests made by “birthers”, the new statute was signed into law yesterday by Governor Lingle.

Admittedly, the language that ultimately passed is much better than in the bill first proposed
. Initially, it gave state agencies the power to declare a person a “vexatious requester” if they were deemed to have abused “the process”. According to the bill, the following activities could contribute to someone being labeled “vexatious”: requesting a large quantity or broad scope of information; splitting requests to minimize fees; making duplicative or repetitive requests; and making requests that only “marginally promote the public interest”–as if most government agencies have displayed any ability to operate in the public interest. This bill would have tied the hands of the Grassroot Institute and other organizations, such as Hawaii Reporter, that regularly request information in the public interest.

Fortunately, the House amended the language in committee to a much more narrow focus–specifically, duplicative requests made by the same individual. The main problem now is that there appear to be no checks and balances in enforcing the law. In the House version, the agency still would have had to provide documentation to the Office of Information Practices, who would then give an opinion to the agency about whether or not they would be required to respond to the request. In the version that came out of conference committee and became law yesterday, however, there is no requirement for a second opinion outside of the agency, and no process stated for a requester to appeal the agency’s decision.

We appear to have dodged a bullet for now, but the devil is in the details–or in this case, the bureaucracy’s implementation. In the meantime, the Grassroot Institute will continue to push forward on transparency initiatives like HawaiiVotes.org and HawaiiSunshine.org (still in development) that make all of this “public information” truly available to the public.

On that note–did I mention the $40,000 matching opportunity we have for our transparency initiatives? You can help us here.  🙂

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