THE FACTS ABOUT THE OFFICE OF INFORMATION PRACTICES
News release from Office of Information Practices, Apr 21, 2023
[On April 19, 2023, the online organization Civil Beat was given the first opportunity to provide the article below to its readers, which was not published as of the time this What’s New article was disseminated.]
Despite the important role the Office of Information Practices (OIP) plays for Hawaii’s open record and open meeting laws, people often make inaccurate assumptions about what OIP is and what it does. Are you ready to hear the real facts about OIP?
FACT #1: OIP is not responsible for responding to record requests seeking records from other State or county agencies. OIP typically provides its own records free and within the ten workdays required by Hawaii’s open records law, the Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA), but OIP does not act as a clearinghouse processing all the record requests for government agencies statewide. Instead, OIP’s role is to administer the UIPA as well as the Hawaii’s open meetings law, the Sunshine Law, by providing training and guidance and answering questions from agencies and the public, and by resolving disputes that arise under those laws.
FACT #2: OIP helps requesters get records from other agencies. When agencies deny or fail to respond to UIPA requests for their records or present other problems, requesters can ask OIP for free assistance, which often results in getting the requested records within six months. Free forms and training materials are also conveniently provided 24/7 on OIP’s Training page at oip.hawaii.gov.
FACT #3: OIP helps requesters when agencies quote excessive fees. If an agency provides an excessively high fee estimate for a records request, the requester can ask OIP for help. For example, in Opinion Letter Number F23-02, the agency initially quoted a fee of over $1,000,000 to redact and provide requested records to a reporter, which with OIP’s assistance was quickly reduced to $290. After the reporter revised her request to ask for inmates’ names and the department provided a new response, thus necessitating a lengthy opinion, OIP ultimately concluded that her estimated fees should be between zero to $290, depending on her record request.
FACT #4: OIP quickly resolved 97% of the 1,633 formal and informal requests for its services that it received in fiscal year (FY) 2022 in that same year, of which 89% were typically resolved within the same day through OIP’s Attorney of the Day (AOD) service. Although AOD inquiries have been taking an increasing amount of attorney time due to the number of inquiries doubling as compared to recent years, agencies usually conform to OIP’s informal advice, so the time OIP invests in providing this service prevents or quickly resolves many disputes that would otherwise lead to more labor-intensive formal cases.
FACT #5: Despite a more than 14% increase in new formal cases and the opening of 177 new formal cases in FY 2022, OIP resolved 70% (124) of them in the same year. This same-year resolution number would be higher if it included those filed in the last few months of a fiscal year and resolved early the next year.
FACT #6: OIP has been prioritizing the resolution of its oldest appeals first. While most cases can be quickly resolved, those disputes that can be resolved only through a formal appeal require much more time to investigate, obtain parties’ positions, research, review, and resolve through written opinions that may be subjected to judicial review. Although the number of formal cases in OIP’s backlog (consisting mostly of appeals) has been increasing with the rise in new cases and the loss of nearly half of OIP’s staff during COVID, OIP continues to chip away at its backlog that contained difficult cases dating back 12 years when the current Director was initially appointed in 2011. Since then, OIP has been giving the highest priority to resolving the oldest cases first, if possible, and in recent fiscal years, the oldest cases in its backlog have been ones filed no more three fiscal years previously. OIP expects to end FY 23 with no cases filed before FY 21.
FACT #7: OIP does much more than these statistics show. OIP’s statistics regarding its formal and informal caseloads do not take into account OIP’s many other responsibilities, which include its interim and session duties and the preparation and updating of extensive training materials that are freely provided online 24-7 to assist government agencies and the general public.
As part of its legislative duties, OIP frequently testifies in opposition to proposals against transparency and in support of legislation favoring open government. For example, OIP was the early champion of legislation to allow Sunshine Law boards to conduct remote meetings, which has proven to be very popular and has greatly expanded public participation in government meetings. In the 2023 session, OIP has also supported SB 1513, Relating to Public Agency Meetings, which would require a board to report any discussion or final action taken during an executive meeting.
During the 2022 interim, OIP was tasked by both the Senate and House in Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 192 with creating a working group to develop “recommendations for a new UIPA statutory exception and other recommendations for deliberative and pre-decisional agency records to reasonably balance the public’s interest in disclosure and the agency’s ability to fully consider and make sound and informed decisions.” The Director and two staff attorneys devoted substantial time, along with the working group members, to fulfilling this legislative request, which resulted in a proposal introduced during the 2023 session as SB 720 and HB 1158 to create a new deliberative process exception.
OIP has much more to say about the deliberative process exception and other pending legislation in two separate articles. For the objective facts about OIP, the law, or open government legislative proposals, check OIP’s website at oip.hawaii.gov, sign up for OIP’s What’s New emailed articles at OIP@hawaii.gov, or call (808) 586-1400 to speak to the Attorney of the Day.