Journalists from an online news service in Hawaii have started a public service law center to help citizen’s navigate the state’s open record laws.
Honolulu-based Civil Beat reports that Hawaii has decent public information laws, but in practice state and county government fail to follow and enforce the law. Patti Epler of Civil Beat describes the law as such:
“We've found that it's common for agencies to routinely reject — without good reason — requests for reports, documents and other information that should be readily available. They sometimes simply ignore legitimate inquiries from the press and the public or stall for months. Their redactions can black out whole pages.”
The state has an Office of Information Practices that helps requesters with appeals, but it remains two years behind on its cases and other agencies routinely ignore its opinions.
Last week, Civil Beat announced the creation of a new organization to help citizens through such requests: The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest. Funded by the Hawaii Community Foundation and Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Ohana Fund, the center lawyers will provide advice on accessing government information to news media and citizens at no charge.
Civil Beat describes the center as an independent organization that shares the news site’s name and “our mission of encouraging government transparency through investigative and watchdog reporting, and the center's work is a natural extension of that goal.”