State House, Senate clash over when to reopen Capitol building to the public

The state House is ready to welcome the public back to the state Capitol, but the state Senate president said he wasn’t consulted.
Published: Feb. 16, 2022 at 9:41 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2022 at 10:17 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state House is ready to welcome the public back to the state Capitol for its hearings and flood sessions, but the state Senate president said he wasn’t consulted.

The announcement came Wednesday in a statement from House Speaker Scott Saiki, as COVID cases continue to fall.

Senate President Ron Kouchi responded to the announcement in his own statement, saying he’ll wait for the state comptroller to set the date for reopening — as well as policies and procedures.

Government watchdogs said it’s a bad sign when legislative leaders aren’t talking to each other.

“We wish they had better communicated to let the public know what’s going on. We need more confidence in our elected officials,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii.

Confidence is already low after former Senate majority leader J. Kalani English and former state representative Ty Cullen pleaded guilty in a bribery scandal this week.

The scandal is one reason why the House is reopening.

“Yes, we are very committed to transparency, and I think now we need to ensure there is public access to our process,” said House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti.

“It’s unfortunate that they couldn’t have made that announcement together because, of course, both the House and the Senate had a member who was targeted in these corruption investigations and they both pled guilty,” said HNN Political Analyst Colin Moore.

“Both chambers actually operate under their own rules, as we always have done,” said Rep. Belatti. “It’s not unusual for us to do things a little differently.”

Despite their differences, both chambers have been holding public meetings virtually since March 2020, and they both share the challenge of rebuilding public trust.

“The corruption occurred when the Capitol was open, so honestly, I hate to say this, but who knows what’s happening now that the Capitol is closed?” asked Ma.

The state comptroller was asked to comment, and responded that he would be ready on whatever date the House and Senate decide on.

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