State lawmakers concluded their regular business for 2020 on Friday with a much different set of priorities than when it began.
When lawmakers convened in January, their focus was on providing relief to Hawaii residents struggling with the state’s highest-in-the-nation cost of living.
A sweeping set of proposals to increase the minimum wage, cut taxes, and increase spending on social services was poised to sail through both the House and Senate.
Six months later, the COIVD-19 pandemic and a global economic recession almost entirely derailed those plans.
Instead, lawmakers’ focus shifted to plugging a budget shortfall of more than $2 billion dollars and distributing assistance money from the federal CARES Act.
Over the past 3 weeks, they divvied up more than $600 million to supplement weekly unemployment payments, provide financial assistance for renters, and buy personal protective equipment for essential workers.
In his closing remarks from the rostrum, House Speaker Scott Saiki didn’t sugarcoat the dire situation confronting the state.
“This is the most challenging time facing Hawaii since statehood,” Saiki said. “It will not be easy to reopen Hawaii incrementally, while still ensuring public health and safety.”
Despite those obstacles, legislators were able to score some non-pandemic accomplishments. They approved funding to expand public childcare and Pre-K, the only major survivor from the cost-of-living initiative launched in January.
The House and Senate also agreed to broaden paid family leave to include grandchildren, passed a ban on non-disclosure agreements covering sexual assault in the workplace, and created a red light camera test project on Oahu.
Government ethics also got some attention. Lawmakers passed a ban on future governors and county mayors holding an outside job while in office. They also approved a one-year waiting period on lobbying for state legislators and high-ranking public officials after they leave government.
A measure to require disclosure of the names of police officers who are disciplined or suspended also passed both houses despite opposition from the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.
The bills now go to Gov. David Ige, who has 35 working days to decide if he will veto any of the measures.