by HCBC member, Josh Frost of Beretania Consulting
Have you heard? The Legislature will be reconvening, albeit temporarily, on May 11, 2020.
According to an AP story, the primary goals in mind are to address shortfalls in the budget and to confirm numerous appointments by Governor Ige to various boards and commissions. The agenda will be extremely limited and the timeline accelerated so they can pass just the “essentials” and adjourn “sine die” in a week or so.
What specifically will they be doing?
A handful of bills and scores of Governor’s Messages (GMs; letters sent to the Legislature providing various information. In this case, appointments to various boards and commissions) have already been queued for handling. It can be difficult to parse it all out, but you can see a list of all the hearing notices that have been posted here.
During this crisis it might seem trivial to spend time confirming numerous appointments by the Governor, but it isn’t. Referring back to the AP story, Senator Kouchi says the confirmations are necessary to allow any number of boards and commissions to meet their quorum requirements so that they can conduct business.
Most people think of government as made-up of “the three branches” and may see boards and commissions as largely extraneous, but I assure you that isn’t the case. Though virtually no one in the public pays attention to them, these structures serve important ancillary functions that are often the core of government activity.
In addition to the GMs, this handful of bills is focused solely on addressing fiscal issues:
- HB1631 RELATING TO STATE BONDS – This authorizes the State to issue General Obligation bonds.
- HB2200 HD1 RELATING TO THE STATE BUDGET – This the supplemental budget for Fiscal Year 2020, which begins on July 1st. If you’re at all concerned about how the State intends to address the $1 billion shortfall, this is one to keep an eye on.
- HB2725 HD1 RELATING TO CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS – Capital improvement projects, or CIPs, are various construction projects and are often times paid for by floating bonds.
- SB75 SD2 PROPOSED HD1 RELATING TO APPROPRIATIONS – This bill will specifically address how federal funds from the CARES Act will be appropriated to various counties, state agencies, etc.
- SB3139 SD1 PROPOSED HD1 RELATING TO THE STATE BUDGET – This will make “deposits into the emergency and budget reserve fund by replacing general fund appropriations with general obligation bond proceeds” among other things. It can be presumed that bonds authorized by HB1631 will be used here.
And that’s it. At least so far, though there is little reason to believe that any additional bills or issues will be taken up during this brief restart of the regular session.
Conspicuously missing from this list is any Grants-In-Aid (GIAs) bills. GIAs are usually operating funds given to local non-profits and various social service organizations that provide services to the public. Sadly, the organizations that rely heavily on these GIAs to survive will need to look elsewhere for operating funds.
But what about the lock-down and work-from-home orders?
To ensure the safety of the public as well as elected officials and staff, the Capitol will remain closed to the public during the reconvening of the session. Neighbor island legislators will be allowed to travel inter-island without the burden of a mandatory 14-day quarantine so they can more easily conduct the business of the State.
Hearings will not be open to the public and no in-person testimony will be allowed. Sadly, because the Capitol’s internet infrastructure is so old, oral testimony via mediums like Zoom or Skype will not be an option, though written testimony will be accepted. Hearings will be broadcast and you can find that information here.
Under normal circumstances, hearing notifications are published 48-hours in advance and written testimony is due 24-hours in advance, per internal House and Senate rules. It remains unclear at this point whether those deadlines will be loosened or not.
I can’t promise I’ll be able to answer every question, but I’m happy to try. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Josh Frost is the principle of Beretania Consulting and has a Master's degree in Political Management from George Washington University.