A Senate bill that would allow board members to use video conferencing, in conjunction with face-to-face meetings, for public gatherings under the state’s Sunshine Act without a declared emergency has cleared the House’s first hurdle.
Senate Bill 1034, Senate Draft 1, was passed 9-0 by the House Pandemic & Disaster Preparedness Committee Tuesday.
The committee made what Oahu Democrat and Chairman Rep. Linda Ichiyama called “technical, non-substantial changes”.
Following these changes, the measure would also require that remote meetings held by interactive conferencing technology be interrupted for a maximum of one hour if audiovisual communication cannot be maintained by the board. Meetings would only be called again if audio communications can be restored within that time.
The legislation, which is part of Governor David Ige’s legislative package, would also allow additional courtesy pages to be opened for the public to hold video conferencing. These websites are subject to the same technical standards, including subtitles.
The bill contained 46 pages of written testimony, almost unanimously in support, but much of it raised concerns or proposed changes.
Dorene Eddy, program specialist with the Consumer Affairs Professional Licensing Department, noted that the department has numerous boards and commissions and holds approximately 25 meetings per month, which are currently held at Zoom. She added that while the department supports the intent of the bill, there are human and resource concerns that additional remote locations could cause “undue hardship”.
Brian Black, executive director of the Civil Beat Law Center in the public interest, noted the stringent requirements for additional remote locations.
“If this is too complicated for the boards, they just won’t,” said Black. “You don’t have to use any remote technology as part of this calculation. And if you make it difficult for them, they just won’t. “
Cheryl Kakazu Park, director of Black and Office of Information Practices, also testified that OIP should not be tasked with enforcing the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act under the stated bill.
“OIP doesn’t have the expertise to do this,” said Black. “And doing this for them is a significant burden when they are already at work and having difficulty with the work they are already doing on government transparency.”
“Accessibility rights are already guaranteed by other state and federal laws administered by other agencies,” added Kakazu Park. “And OIP does not have the expertise or staff to add another level of administration or enforcement of such rights to the Sunshine Act itself. Adding these new requirements at the expense of ending the official meeting when the accessible technology fails in the additional locations would prevent the boards from conveniently expanding public access during remote meetings. “
Peter Fritz, a Honolulu attorney with a hearing impairment and a disability rights attorney, argued that OIP should be responsible for the ADA requirements in the bill, suggesting that the agencies already in charge of enforcement were not doing an adequate job.
Fritz also had a problem with the idea that a meeting interrupted due to technical difficulties could only be reopened with audio.
“If a meeting is all about audio, I’m totally exhausted because I can’t always hear everyone testifying,” he said. “… I feel like a person with a disability, I should be able to attend any meeting and I am more than willing to make the appropriate arrangements.”
One of the changes adopted by the committee was to relieve the OIP from ADA enforcement obligations.
Ichiyama noted that “accessibility requirements are already regulated by law,” and said that ADA accessibility should be governed by the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, not the OIP.
The bill includes another referral from the committee, the House Committee on Justice and Hawaiian Affairs, chaired by Rep. Mark Nakashima of Hamakua. No hearing was scheduled until late Friday afternoon.
Email John Burnett at [email protected].
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