NEWS RELEASE: Institute urges governor to enact emergency powers reform

SB3089 was OK’d by the Legislature but the governor is threatening to veto the measure on grounds that are not really germane

HONOLULU, June 28, 2022 >> Gov. David Ige’s notice of intent to veto SB3089 is a grave disservice to the cause of restoring Hawaii’s traditional and constitutional balance of powers during states of emergency, according to Keli‘i Akina, president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

The bill was approved by the 2022 Legislature after much negotiating to ensure maximum flexibility for the governor during periods of crisis, but not so much as to exclude political checks and balances and input from the public.

In particular, the bill would:

>> Allow the Legislature to end an emergency by a two-thirds vote. 

>> Clarify that the governor’s emergency powers shall not be inconsistent with the Hawaii Constitution.

>> Require justification for the suspension of laws by emergency proclamation. 

In addition, SB3089 addresses the confusion over the current statute’s automatic termination provision, clarifying how the governor may extend or re-declare an emergency.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the bill resembles measures passed in nearly 30 other states, such as New York and Connecticut, over the past two years.

It is similar to a measure that nearly was approved by the 2021 state Legislature, but died at the last moment in conference committee.

Ige said he intends to veto the 2022 measure because “a premature termination of a state of emergency may significantly impede counties’ emergency-management capabilities,” as well as threaten the state’s ability to obtain federal emergency funding.

Akina pointed out that SB3089 “does not require the Legislature to end this or any other emergency; it just empowers them to do so. What’s more, if the legislators do want to end the emergency, they can do it ‘in part,’ thereby reserving whatever is necessary to keep the federal funds.”

The overarching importance of the bill, Akina said, is that it would “restore the state’s constitutional balance of powers during an emergency by creating a meaningful check on the executive’s ability to declare endless emergencies and suspend laws that seem to have little bearing on health and welfare.”

Over the past two years of coronavirus lockdowns, he said, “We saw the importance of giving the people a voice in government. And now, after a great deal of reflection and consideration, the Legislature has put forth a measure that can help ensure good governance during an emergency. We hope the governor reconsiders his intent to veto SB3089 and instead allows it to become law. If he doesn’t, we hope the Legislature will rise to the occasion and override his veto.”

Akina noted that, “An amendment to prevent the governor from completely suspending public records requests during emergencies did not make it into the final bill, but enactment of SB3809 would still reinforce the values of accountable government, especially at a time when Hawaii residents are being inundated with breaking news about government corruption scandals.”

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