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Monday, July 1, 2024
Veto? Hawaii governor under fire over authority to suspend electronic media transmission
By Selected News Articles @ 8:34 PM :: 572 Views :: First Amendment

Hawaii governor under fire for veto threat

by Ailin Vilches Arguello, Washington Examiner, July 1, 2024

Gov. Josh Green (D-HI) is facing opposition for his intention to veto a bill that would limit his authority to suspend electronic media transmission during a state of emergency.

House Bill 2581 would remove these words from Hawaii law regarding a governor’s or mayor’s powers during an emergency, specifically “to the extent permitted by or under federal law, suspend electronic media transmission.”

If signed into law, the bill will establish “a reasoned and balanced measure” that addresses both the public’s right to information and the concerns of emergency management agencies, according to the Big Island Press Club.

“The governor or mayors’ ability to suspend any and all ‘electronic media transmissions’ during a state of emergency creates a clear prior restraint on lawful free speech and publication and violates the First Amendment as upheld by the United States Supreme Court,” said Chris Leonard, president of the Hawaii Association of Broadcasters. 

“The current statute clearly represents government overreach in granting the state and county government a ‘blank check’ to shut down all electronic media transmission without providing an explanation for why this is necessary, what systems are affected, for how long, and how decisions would be made,” he added. 

In a letter to Green, the Public First Law Center said state law provides Hawaii’s governor with “a robust array of powers” to respond to emergencies.

Brian Black, the center’s executive director, said the bill “does not limit any of these extraordinary powers” but instead “removes language that is overly broad, vague, and very likely unconstitutional if exercised.”

However, in his veto-intent message on June 21, Green said the state “must still guard against acts of extreme violence or acts of terrorism which can use social media or other electronic media to communicate and activate crowds or destructive devices.”

The bill passed both chambers unanimously.

“The hunger for fact‐based information is never more intense than during an emergency, and when that information is hard to come by, people often resort to rumors and speculation,” Big Island Press Club President Tiffany Edwards Hunt said. “One would think that’s the last thing the government would want in a declared emergency.”

James Barros, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency administrator, acknowledged concerns to the Associated Press about possible suppression of free speech. 

But he also said, “We’re pretty confident that this current governor wouldn’t do that.” 

He argued the agency wants to provide an amendment aimed at preventing any future governor from exercising these powers “in a very negative manner” while still providing “the governor with some flexibility.”

Besides Barros, the press club, broadcasters, Public First Law Center, and Stirling Morita, the president of the Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii Chapter, supported this bill.

Green has until July 10 to sign, veto, or let the bill become law without his signature. However, his adviser said he has not made a final decision. 

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