Opinion Letter No. 02-02
May 28, 2002
Limits on Oral Testimony at County Council Meetings
Common Cause Hawaii filed a complaint regarding oral
testimony at Honolulu City Council
Two issues were involved: (1) whether the Council's practice of
allowing oral testimony at public
meetings only if persons wishing to testify sign up by a certain
time is allowed under chapter 92,
Hawaii Revised Statutes ("Sunshine Law"); and (2) whether
the Council's practice of placing time
limits on oral testimony is allowed under the Sunshine Law.
On the first issue, requiring persons wishing to testify to sign
up by a certain time, the OIP found that
oral testimony must be allowed even if a person wishing to testify
did not sign up. The Sunshine Law
requires that boards shall afford all interested persons an opportunity
to present oral testimony on any
agenda item; and that boards may provide for reasonable administration
of oral testimony by rule.
Haw. Rev. Stat. § 92-3 (1993).
In light of the fact that the law allows "all interested persons"
to present oral testimony, the OIP does
not believe it is reasonable under section 92-3, Hawaii Revised
Statutes, to require testifiers to sign up
by a certain time. Such a requirement would preclude all latecomers
from testifying orally, as well as
those who are not familiar with Council rules.
This is not to say that boards cannot request that persons wishing
to testify orally sign up by a certain
time in the interests of time management. After all those who signed
up have testified, boards should
inquire whether any other audience members wish to testify orally,
and should not preclude such
persons from testifying. If time is running short, boards have the
option of continuing meetings in
accordance with section 92-7(b), Hawaii Revised Statutes.
On the second issue, placing time limits on oral testimony, the
Sunshine Law allows boards to provide
for reasonable administration of oral testimony by rule. Haw. Rev.
Stat. § 92-3 (1993). So long as
the Council's time restrictions on testimony meet the requirements
of the Sunshine Law and the
Freedom of Speech and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States
Constitution, the Council may
put reasonable time limits on oral testimony pursuant to rules adopted
under section 92-3, Hawaii