The State Budget is in a joint conference committee this week to work out Senate and House differences. One state agency has been on the short end of the appropriations stick for decades. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.
The State Office of Information Practices –OIP -- administers Hawai’i’s open records and open meetings laws for all state, county, executive, legislative and judiciary branch agencies, including the University of Hawai’i and Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Those laws are the Uniform Information Practices Act and the Sunshine law. But, OIP’s workload has doubled and funding and resources have not kept pace.
OIP director, Cheryl Kakazu Park, testified before the Senate Ways and Means Committee last month.
“For this fiscal year, 2018, OIP only has a budget of $576,855 which is only 42 percent of its inflation-adjusted budget back in 1994. So, OIP is doing more than double the work today with less than half the funding that it had 24 years ago.”
Kakazu-Park says 5 attorneys and 2 admin staff handle more than 12-hundred cases each year and they have cut the case backlog from 12 years down to 2-to-3 years. Common Cause Hawai’I, the nonprofit advocate for more openness, transparency and accountability in government, acknowledges OIP’s funding challenges, but, executive director, Corie Tanida, says training agency representatives is also needed.
“Well, I do think they need more resources. We’ve seen, over the years, in OIP’s reports that their budget and the number of staff have been reduced over the years. However, I don’t know if that’s necessarily the end all, be all, to resolving all of the issues that they have. A big chunk of their responsibility is to ensure the agencies, that do fill these requests, follow the law and and make it accessible.”
OIP’s Kakazu-Park requested 115-thousand dollars for attorney and staff salary raises plus 2 additional attorney positions and $200-thousand for training. That was denied by the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Kakazu-Park says it’s not all that she asked for but retaining current personnel is a plus.
“I’m just happy that at least I’m gonna hold on, hopefully, to the people that I have as long as the House also agrees in – you know – the budget get’s passed and the $115-thousand request that I asked for.”
Kakazu-Park says if lawmakers want to cut down the OIP backlog or add requirements, additional resources need to be provided. Tanida from Common Cause Hawai’i would like all stake holders. including lawmakers and the news media, to sit down and discuss what can be done to improve the system for requestors and the general public.
“Government it’s a long process; it’s a long game so you have to be in it for the long haul. Nothing changes overnight. I wish it did – don’t get me wrong -- but let’s be realistic about it and let’s work together with the resources that we do have. But there are great minds and there are collaborative minds in the community that we can come together to find these solutions. Hopefully for cheap (laugh).”
For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.