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HOOSER: House tries ‘end-around’ on COVID rules

Today at 1:30 p.m., the state Legislature’s House Committee on Finance is holding a hearing on SB266.

Why is this important to Kaua‘i residents, and why have you not heard about this before?

To make a long story short, back on March 16, when no one was looking, state Rep. Linda Ichiyama, chair of the House Pandemic &Disaster Preparedness Committee, “inserted the contents of HB1286 into a new Part 2 of SB266.”

With no public notice, no public testimony and no public discussion whatsoever, Ichiyama, supported by House Leadership, did an “end around,” circumventing the normal legislative process.

The contents of HB1286 removes the ability of individual counties to establish their own COVID travel rules. HB1286 was recently deferred in the Senate after a triple/joint committee hearing. This normally means it’s “dead,” and a pretty strong signal that the Senate wants no part of it.

Kaua‘i today has per capita, the absolute lowest number of COVID-related infections, hospitalizations and deaths of any county in Hawai‘i. Credit for this achievement belongs to Mayor Derek Kawakami and his team, who chose to establish stricter travel guidelines than Honolulu.

HB1286’s intention was to remove the power of Kaua‘i County to protect itself. HB1286 was introduced by House Speaker Scott Saiki and strongly supported by the visitor industry, which wants “uniform travel rules” and does not want Kaua‘i or any county to have stricter requirements.

In summary, HB1286 was killed in the state Senate (led by Kaua‘i’s own Senate President Ronald Kouchi) and resurrected by the House via a back-door maneuver in the form of an amendment to SB266.

Unfortunately, House leadership continues to play fast and loose with the rules, the law and the intent of the state constitution.

Here is a relevant passage:

State Constitution Article II, Section 14: No law shall be passed except by bill. Each law shall embrace but one subject.

NOTE: HB266 clearly embraces more than one subject. For 2/3 of the process it deals only with COVID appropriations. Then it’s amended to include another subject which relates to COVID travel rules and county authority.

Further: Section 15: No bill shall become law unless it shall pass three readings in each house on separate days.

NOTE: HB266 containing its true substantive content has not received its required three readings in the Senate.

The committee report issued by Ichiyama states clearly, “The purpose of this measure is to appropriate funds for COVID-19 response programs and activities.”

Toward the end of the report it states, “Your Committee further finds… Your Committee believes that having a uniform law regarding mandatory self-quarantine will allow the state to welcome more people, thereby stimulating the economy and improving the quality of life for its citizens…”

How can Ichiyama claim “Your Committee further finds” when there was no testimony, no discussion and no mention of COVID travel rules whatsoever during the committee hearing? Watch the videotape please. There is nothing.

The audacity and arrogance of the chair and House leadership is appalling.

To their credit, this maneuver is perversely clever. It’s sneaky, and likely unconstitutional, but yes, it’s clever and it’s subterfuge. By tying HB1286 to SB266 (which is a COVID-appropriations measure), the House ensures that if this measures survives the conference-committee process intact, the governor will be prevented from vetoing the bill without risking urgently-needed, COVID-related emergency funding.

State law and rules should represent a floor and not a ceiling. If a county due to its own particular circumstances wants to be more protective and have stricter rules and regulations, they should not be prevented from doing so. AND emergency rules governing a pandemic should not be frozen in law and unable to rapidly adapt to changing conditions.

This move by the state House represents bad policy, bad politics and bad process.

Please take a moment to contact your Kaua‘i representative and let them know your thoughts on this issue.

Representative James Tokioka (808-586-6270, reptokioka@capitol.hawaii.gov) has consistently opposed both HB1286 and now SB266. He has spoken publicly on several occasions in strong support of maintaining Kawakami’s COVID travel policies and opposes the change in law.

State Rep. Nadine Nakamura (808-586-8435, repnakamura@capitol.hawaii.gov) voted in opposition to HB1286 during early votes, then switched to a “with-reservations” vote in support, and then to a full “yes” vote recently on SB266.

The most influential of Kaua‘i’s three representatives is Dee Morikawa (808-586-6280, repmorikawa@capitol.hawaii.gov), who as majority floor leader is a member of House leadership and a key supporter of Saiki. Morikawa has been vocal in her support for changing Kaua‘i’s travel rules to conform with the Honolulu standards.

I encourage Kaua‘i residents to engage the process. Call or email your representative AND if you read this in time, please submit testimony on SB266 today before noon if possible. Visit capitol.hawaii.gov, register (it’s easy) and just follow the easy steps to submit testimony.

•••

Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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