Published in The Maui News, October 5, 2014
By GLADYS C. BAISA , for The Maui News
During a recent public forum organized by the Maui Disability Alliance, several Maui County Council members stood up and left.
They weren’t being disrespectful. They didn’t want to leave.
But they were concerned about being accused of violating the state Sunshine Law when
they saw several of their colleagues would be participating. The Sunshine Law is Hawaii’s open-meeting law, governing the manner in which all state and county boards must conduct their official business.
The Sunshine Law generally prohibits attendance by five or more council members (a majority) when county business is discussed, unless an agenda is filed six days in advance. Even when there isn’t a majority of council members in attendance, those who attend informational meetings may have to file a report at the next council meeting.
I respectfully ask meeting organizers and others in the public to be aware of these limitations and to not take offense when council members decline attendance or abruptly leave meetings.
State legislators don’t need to worry about violating these restrictions because the law does not apply to them.
I will ask state legislators such as those who freely attended the Maui Disability Alliance forum to allow council members the ability to interact jointly with our constituents at public events.
The next state legislative session begins in January, and it’s time to prepare. The Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Council Member Riki Hokama, is actively reviewing proposals for inclusion in the Hawaii State of Association Counties’ and Maui County legislative packages.
It’s important for the counties to present a united front to state officials. The Maui County Council has already asked the other counties to join the effort to seek the return of more hotel-tax revenue.
Each county invests in the visitor industry in many ways, including by providing marketing support, public safety, beach parks and physical infrastructure. Yet the resulting tax revenue is disproportionately and unfairly kept by the state.
During the last session, counties fought for the return of $72 million – our fair share of the hotel tax, also known as the transient accommodations tax, or TAT. After extensive lobbying and testimony, a scanty $10 million was returned.
The council will be seeking local residents’ help in contacting state legislators to ensure they know how their decisions affect Maui County. Bookmark the website mauicounty.us to keep tabs on this and other council projects.
At Friday’s council meeting, a resolution was adopted to formally recognize October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The resolution noted “our nation has strengthened its response to this crime and increased services for victims” of domestic violence in the 20 years since the Violence Against Women Act was passed. But much more needs to be done.
The Maui County Domestic Violence Task Force includes representatives from government agencies and nonprofit organizations such as Parents and Children Together (PACT), Women Helping Women and Child and Family Services.
They are working to make sure everyone has a safe and peaceful home. Wear a purple ribbon this month to show your support.
Finally, Monday is the last day to register to vote for the general election. Call the county clerk at 270-7749 to get registered.
A hui hou.
* Gladys C. Baisa is chairwoman of the Maui County Council and holds the council’s Pukalani-Kula-Ulupalakua area residency seat. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters.