State Legislature taking up several coronavirus-related measures after reconvening

  • CONNORS

A bill that would allow the state Department of Health to impose quarantines without an emergency proclamation by the governor is one of several COVID-19-related bills introduced in the state Legislature this week.

After cutting short its scheduled 2020 session to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — only temporarily reconvening in May to address budgetary issues — the Legislature once again reconvened this week, this time to address unfinished business as well as new COVID-19 measures.

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Among the handful of measures from earlier in the session that are continuing through committees are several bills that were repurposed to address the pandemic, including a pair of House bills that would allow the state health director to declare a public health emergency independent of a gubernatorial declaration, which would give the Department of Health temporary emergency powers.

Those powers would include the imposition of health screening, testing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation protocols; requiring declarations of health status and travel histories from arriving travelers; ordering the temporary closure of schools or businesses; and more.

The two House bills — which were amended from previous drafts wholly unrelated to the pandemic — follow comments by state Attorney General Clare Connors, who last week said she would propose a series of bills that would aid the state’s transition into emergency mode during pandemics.

As Connors said last week, any emergency declared by the state health director would automatically expire after 90 days, unless extended or cut short by the director or governor.

Only one of the bills is scheduled for a hearing so far. House Bill 2502 is scheduled for a public hearing Friday before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health.

The House has not yet appointed conferees for the other bill, House Bill 1049, but that one is functionally very similar to HB 2502.

Another COVID-related bill — one that would allow the state Board of Land and Natural Resources to issue month-to-month revocable permits for emergency sheltering of homeless people on state lands — will be heard today by the House Committee on Housing.

Most other measures that were unfinished after the session paused in March were killed indefinitely. Hilo Rep. Chris Todd said any bill that represents any serious financial commitment that isn’t related to COVID relief or capital improvement projects has been put on hold.

“Unless it’s directly tied to COVID relief, they’re just not our priorities anymore,” Todd said. “There’s several hundred bills like that. … It’s disappointing to see legislation you worked on getting killed, but at the same time, we have to keep ourselves afloat.”

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The majority of the bills that will be discussed during this belated session will be devoted to carving up the approximately $600 million in federal funds allocated to the state via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Todd said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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