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Host of safety protocols in place to prevent COVID outbreak during legislative session

Updated: Jan. 23, 2021 at 5:33 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The legislative session kicked off this week, but state business will be conducted much differently during the pandemic in an effort to keep the building safe.

Currently, an invitation is needed to enter the Capitol building.

Inside, everyone must pass through a temperature check station in the basement. Once given the all clear, lawmakers, staff and guests need to pick up a day pass that’s worn at all times.

Conference rooms have been rearranged to give members more space during committee hearings.

What you can’t see are all of the technological improvements meant to bolster remote access to proceedings. The general public won’t be allowed to testify on legislation in person.

Instead they’ll have their say virtually.

“When the committee hearing notice is posted online there will be instructions there for how someone can register to submit testimony,” said House Speaker Scott Saiki.

Go to Capitol.hawaii.gov to find a dashboard with everything from calendars to tools that allow you to connect with your lawmaker and instructions on how to submit testimony on proposed bills.

Advocates for open government believe the new system will allow more people to participate.

“We think remote testimony will benefit the public. We are an island state. It costs money and time to travel to Oahu to the State Capitol to testify,” said Sandy Ma, Common Cause executive director.

On the House floor, custodial workers clean twice a day using the same decontamination equipment paramedics use in ambulances.

“We’ve set up plexiglass to divide all the members desks,” Saiki said.

He said the state spent about $500,000 in federal CARES funds to implement all of the new COVID safety measures.

There’s also fewer people working. Nearly 100 staff positions were eliminated this session.

Saiki said, “We did limit the number of session hires that could be working this year to ensure that their would be distancing in the offices.”

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