The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Senate Committee on Public Safety and Intergovernmental and Military Affairs on March 17, 2023.
March 17, 2023
Conference Room 225
To: Senate Committee on Public Safety and Intergovernmental and Military Affairs
Sen. Glenn Wakai, Chair
Sen. Brandon J.C. Elefante, Vice Chair
From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
Joe Kent, Executive Vice President
RE: HB522 HD1 — RELATING TO EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
Dear Chair and Committee Members:
The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer comments on HB522 HD1, which would remove the power of the governor or the mayors to suspend electronic media communications during a state of emergency.
The current statute dates back to 1951 and the end of World War II. It was crafted in a very different time when the term “electronic communications” did not encompass the wide range of technologies that it does today.
As written, the law could cover text messaging, phone calls, television, video streaming, email and various forms of social media. Today, these decentralized forms of communication are foundational to the United States’ democratic form of government.
The current statute raises significant questions of constitutionality, and the committee should be commended for acting to address that problem before it can be used to infringe upon civil liberties.
In our policy brief, “Lockdowns Versus Liberty,” we looked at how the state’s emergency management law could be reformed in light of the lessons learned during the COVID-19 crisis.
One of the points made in that brief is that government accountability is even more important in times of emergency, not less. Instead of imposing blanket prohibitions, government actions during emergencies should be narrowly tailored to demonstrate a connection between the actions and the protection of public health or safety.
Freedom of communication is not only at the core of our constitutional principles, it is also essential to keeping the general public informed on matters of critical importance during crises.
Hawaii’s experience with COVID-19 has forced us to reevaluate the state’s emergency management statute. This bill is a good start toward protecting civil rights and accountable government during an emergency.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments.
Executive Vice President
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii