Preventing Kaua‘i County from putting into place strong rules protecting our communities’ health and safety from the risks of expanded COVID infections is the objective of HB1286.
Though the passage of HB1286 also prevents Maui, Honolulu and Hawai‘i counties from doing the same, it was introduced specifically to stop Kaua‘i County from making our own rules.
This is the unvarnished truth.
Tourism-industry leaders complained that “visitors were confused about the rules” and Kaua‘i County’s rules were at the root of that confusion. Rather than try to better explain those rules to visitors, the industry went to their friends at the Legislature, specifically Speaker of the House Scott Saiki, and asked/demanded that the right for Kaua‘i to have its own rules be taken away.
And voila! HB1286 was born. Such is the power of big business.
There are three key elements to this proposal:
• It’s based on the premise that a universal COVID travel policy is best for the travel industry;
• The policy that is proposed in HB1286 requires each incoming traveler to have “a negative test result upon arrival from a state-approved COVID-19 test administered within 72 hours before departing from the final leg of departure.” AND allows “the incident commander” (not the governor, the mayor, or the director of the state Department of Health) to determine who can be “automatically exempt from the pre-travel testing requirements and mandatory self-quarantine…” The present incident commander is Maj. General Kenneth Hara, Hawai‘i adjutant general and director of the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency;
• If passed into law, HB1286 will prevent any county government from having stricter rules: “this Act shall take precedence over all conflicting statutes concerning this subject matter and shall preempt all contrary laws, ordinances, rules, orders, or proclamations adopted by the state, a county, or any department or agency thereof.”
All three of these elements are, of course, debatable.
Most will likely agree that, yes, a uniform travel policy would be best. However, which policy is best and whether it should prevent a county from having stronger provisions are the key questions.
The policy now being proposed in HB1286 is woefully inadequate if the goal is to minimize the spread of travel-related coronavirus infections in Hawai‘i. The medical community is unanimous in agreement that a single test 72 hours prior to arrival is insufficient protection if the goal is to keep COVID infection and death rates as low as possible.
A second test is especially important when taking into consideration the rise of new and more dangerous strains such as the “Kent coronavirus variant” that U.K. experts have said may be up to 70% more infectious and about 30% more lethal than other variants.
The third policy element, that of “preempting” the right of a county to have stricter health protections, is on its own sufficient reason to oppose HB1286. This is yet-another example of the majority of the Legislature who live in Honolulu thinking that what’s best for Honolulu is best for everyone else, regardless of where they might live.
State laws should be a “floor, not a ceiling.” If any county wants to pass stronger laws, rules or regulations that reflect its particular circumstances, it should be allowed to do so. If the residents don’t agree, they can direct their voices to the County Council and mayor, and/or they can elect new county leaders. If visitors don’t like it and/or they are “confused,” then perhaps they would be better served by spending their vacation days in Honolulu. Or, better yet, perhaps non-essential travelers should abide by the CDC travel guidelines which are: “The CDC recommends that you do not travel at this time.”
A reminder for those who might require one: This is an opinion column and I am, of course, simply expressing my opinion.
HB1286 has passed out of its first committee, and on Feb. 12 a second reading floor vote was held, with Representatives Kapela, Nakamura, Takumi, Tokioka, Wildberger voting no, and Representatives DeCoite, Ganaden, Har, McKelvey, Okimoto, Perruso and Ward voting aye with reservations (not quite a no but indicating they don’t really like this measure). Representatives Eli, Gates and Hashimoto were absent and excused. All other representatives voted yes.
The next step in the process is a House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee hearing scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 2 p.m. (testimony is due 24 hours in advance).
Please take a moment, read HB1286, “register” at the top of the page, and offer your testimony at: bit.ly/37dddPw.
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.