State seeks to give health director power to declare public health emergencies

Published: Jul. 5, 2020 at 10:40 AM HST|Updated: Jul. 5, 2020 at 10:41 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state wants to give the state Health director the authority, with the governor’s blessing, to declare public health emergencies to battle the coronavirus and future pandemics.

A bill now moving through the Legislature would allow the director to use those powers to help set up the state’s testing program for incoming visitors and to trace those in contact with an infected person.

Health Director Bruce Anderson supports the measure.

“We did pretty well this past round. I can guarantee we’re going to see other events occur," he said.

“I’m sure we’re going to see more pandemics and being ready to respond quickly and appropriately is going to be key to keeping these incidents under control.”

The proposal, spearheaded by Attorney General Clare Connors, will give the health director more flexibility in dealing with health emergencies, Anderson said.

“It gets you around the politics, right. You’re taking actions that are appropriate,” he said.

The bill received opposition from some who say it gives too much power to a state official who’s not elected.

“Basically, it’s a very big taking of authority and what we’ve seen in the past in the four months is the governor already has the power that’s being asked for in the bill,” said Kauai Councilwoman Felicia Cowden.

Cowden said she worries about abuses of power.

“There is so much overreach of authority that we could easily have a problem like we during the time of Hansen’s disease,” she said.

But lawmakers say the measure would not allow the Health Department director to act in a vacuum. Instead, the director would need to ensure that the governor concurs with the decision to declare an emergency.

The bill next goes to the full Senate and then the House.

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