Testimony on emergency powers measure, Take 2

This following testimony regarding “HB2502, SD1 — Relating to Health” was submitted to the Hawaii Senate Committee on Ways and Means for its consideration on July 2, 2020.

To: Senate Committee on Ways and Means

     Sen. Donovan M. Dela Cruz, Chair

     Sen. Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran, Vice Chair

From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

          Joe Kent, Executive vice president


Comments Only

Dear Chair and Committee members:

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii continues to have grave concerns about HB2502, SD1.

The bill would empower the state director of health, upon approval from the governor, to declare a public health emergency and give the director broad powers in that emergency, including requiring screening, testing, quarantine and contact tracing; closing schools and businesses; releasing confidential information; requiring detailed personal information from travelers; and taking other, unspecified actions the director might deem necessary for the public health.

The powers contemplated in this bill are so sweeping and broad as to raise significant questions about privacy, civil liberties and constitutionality. 

Of particular concern is the bill’s broad permissions regarding screening/tracking technology and how collection, sharing and disclosure of personal information will be handled. 

Likewise, the power to close businesses for months at a time is not one that should be given to an administrative agency without greater oversight and a more effective system of checks and balances on the exercise of the state’s police powers.

It must be stressed that HB2502 is a “gut and replace” bill. Such sweeping legislation should not be contemplated without full opportunity for public testimony and comment, something that is not possible during this truncated legislative session.

While it may be useful to open public debate on how and whether public health emergencies should be treated differently than other emergencies, this particular bill is premature. The state’s emergency management statute (H.R.S. § 127A-11) already allows the governor to delegate powers to other individuals — including the director of health — in order to address an emergency, so there is no pressing need to move on this issue at this time. 

We strongly urge you to defer this measure. Hawaii’s citizens and policymakers need more time to evaluate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the state response before enacting legislation that addresses the state’s police powers during a future crisis.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit our testimony.


Joe Kent

Executive vice president

Grassroot Institute of Hawaii


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