Citing COVID response, legislative leaders push to curb governor’s emergency powers

Some argue Ige's ongoing emergency proclamations dealing with COVID-19 are an overreach of power.
Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 5:26 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 8, 2021 at 5:44 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the pandemic drags on, along with emergency rules on everything from travel to masks, there’s a renewed push to curb the governor’s powers.

Legislative leaders in both parties say Hawaii’s chief executive shouldn’t have the sole discretion to declare an emergency and they’re backing plans to put new limits on that power.

Gov. David Ige issued his first coronavirus emergency proclamation 20 months ago, suspending laws he felt would impede the state’s response and giving him power to issue new rules on his own.

Since then, he’s issued 21 proclamations related to COVID-19 and the Delta surge.

“I don’t think anyone agrees that a proclamation should continue forever,” said House Speaker Scott Saiki, adding Ige is moving too slowly to lift restrictions now that cases are low and vaccinations high.

“I’ll be working on a bill that will allow the Legislature to basically disapprove the governor’s emergency proclamation whether it’s the entire proclamation or just a portion of the proclamation,” said Saiki.

The latest emergency proclamation expires on Nov. 30.

“I have no idea what the governor is going to do,” said Saiki.

House Minority Leader Val Okimoto says she agrees with Saiki’s proposal to rein in the governor’s emergency powers.

“I personally don’t think we are living in an emergency and I don’t think we should be using executive authority to operate that way,” said Okimoto.

“I do feel that this is an overreach and I do feel that we need to address this,” she added.

Okimoto says she’s worried the governor’s emergency proclamation will be extended again.

“There’s more confusion with the counties,” she said. “Right now, we don’t have all the counties agreeing with the governor.”

Ige is at the UN climate conference in Scotland so could not be reached for comment.

The state Attorney General’s office did respond, however, saying every emergency proclamation issued by the governor expires after 60 days.

“Presently, there continues to be a need to invoke and suspend laws to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the people of Hawaii during this pandemic,” the office said, in a statement.

Emergency proclamations are “narrowly tailored to address specific problems and to continue the ability of the State, through HI-EMA and other entities, to assist the counties and provide resources,” the statement continued.

Saiki says the proposed legislation would still give the governor full authority to deal with natural disasters. Saiki also said he is not against many of the governor’s emergency rules, like Safe Travels and those that push vaccination, but he says the Legislature should provide the authority by law.

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