Wednesday marks the start of the 2021 session of the Hawaii State Legislature. Lawmakers are back in the capitol under increased measures for public health and physical security.
Although the state capitol has already been closed to the public for several months in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, that ban is now more physically apparent.
After the recent insurrectionist riot at the U.S. Capitol, the police presence at Hawaii’s capitol building has been increased and barriers have been erected to block entrances.
Anyone entering the underground parking structure must pass through a checkpoint manned by National Guard soldiers.
The new measures were put in place after the events in Washington. Democratic House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti says lawmakers are taking lessons from the storming of the U.S. capitol seriously.
“Our security folks who protect our building have been in touch with local law enforcement as well as the FBI to assess the threats. Everyone is taking a very cautious approach to this,” Au Belatti told HPR in an interview.
She added that the opening day ceremonies had already been substantially reduced from previous years, which typically featured dozens of community groups, office meet and greets with lawmakers, and large public audiences.
A date for removing the barriers has not been set and will be based on security assessments.
Public health restrictions established in 2020 will also remain in place during this year’s session.
The public will not have access to legislative proceedings as in normal times, but hearings and votes will be broadcast live on a number of platforms.
Au Belatti says legislators are dedicating to “making sure the legislative session moves forward” and will use a combination of remote and in-person work to do the people’s business.
“Our members and staff are still be working in the building, and while the public will not be permitted in the building, we’re still conducting a lot of our work in person, as well as virtual meetings.”
One major change from last year is that experts and the general public will now be able to offer live testimony via Zoom. County legislative bodies had already enacted similar procedures.
When COVID-19 restrictions interrupted the 2020 session, members of the public were restricted to submitting written testimony on proposed measures, a move criticized by transparency advocates.
Read instructions for submitting remote testimony: