By Keli‘i Akina
This weekend is a time for celebrating the Declaration of Independence, which was the inspiration behind the founding of the United States of America.
In Hawaii, this July 4th can be additionally meaningful, as we have the opportunity to defend liberty and uphold the system of political checks and balances embodied in both our national and state constitutions.
Earlier this week, Gov. David Ige announced his “intent to veto” SB3089, a bill that aims to reform the state’s emergency powers law. The measure would prevent the governor from unilaterally extending states of emergency beyond the statutory limit and imposing orders that conflict with the state Constitution or are not relevant to public safety or health.
The background for such a reform is the more than two years of lockdowns and other extreme government measures related to COVID-19 that we experienced firsthand starting in March 2020, and some of which still linger today.
During that long period, we learned about the flaws in the current law, the most notable of which is its automatic termination clause. This section of the law, which plainly says that an emergency shall end after 60 days. was ignored by the governor as he issued supplemental proclamation after supplemental proclamation, extending the initial emergency period seemingly indefinitely.
But that wasn’t the only problem exposed by the unusually long public health-related state of emergency. The governor unilaterally suspended laws and made new ones, if only temporarily, making him into a kind of super-legislator. Combined with his repeated emergency extensions, the result was an unchecked expansion of executive power that could last as long as the governor wanted.
Malia Hill, one of my colleagues at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, explained in her January 2021 policy report, Lockdowns vs. Liberty, that a legislative check on the governor is the best way to restore the state’s constitutional balance of powers, especially considering the reluctance of the courts to step in and the uncertainty over how they might rule. Changing the law itself will ensure that the people of Hawaii have a voice in their government during future emergencies.
To their credit, the majority of our legislators in both chambers understood the problem posed by the flawed statute and came close to reforming it during their 2021 session. During the 2022 session, they tried again and came up with SB3089.
This new bill, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, allows the Legislature to terminate an emergency, in whole or in part, by a two-thirds vote. It also states that the governor’s emergency powers must be consistent with the Hawaii Constitution, and requires justification for the suspension of laws.
Finally, it deals with the question of whether the automatic-termination clause is the final word on ending an emergency or whether the governor can extend an emergency.
As recently as a few weeks ago, Ige indicated that he might allow SB3089 to pass. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way he changed his mind and decided to defend the arbitrary and limitless use of executive power in an emergency.
SB3089 is hardly the extreme, anti-health-and-safety bill characterized in the governor’s press statement. In fact, it bears a strong resemblance to bills passed in other states as a result of their experiences during the coronavirus lockdowns.
All SB3089 does is correct an oversight in the existing emergency-management statute, which clearly was not crafted to deal with coronavirus-type public health emergencies. It even allows the Legislature to partially end a declared emergency, thereby providing a mechanism for the state to keep receiving and distributing federal aid.
My hope is that Gov. Ige will change his mind and allow SB3089 to become law. But if he doesn’t, the Legislature can vote to override his veto in a special session.
A veto override requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. Given that SB3089 passed easily to begin with, there should be enough support to override Ige’s veto of the bill.
At the same time, however, the Legislature is preoccupied with the state budget bill, and it would be easy for the emergency powers bill to get lost in the shuffle.
That’s why it’s important to let the Legislature know how important this bill is, by calling or sending a letter to your state House and Senate representatives.
If you need some help on how to do that, just go to the “Take Action” page on the Grassroot Institute’s website and fill out the necessary information. The page will help you identify your elected representatives and assist you in crafting a message about SB3089.
This is your opportunity to tell your elected officials what you think about this bill and why it is vital to head off or override the governor’s veto.
Two years of “emergency rule” did untold damage to our liberties — and to the economic and social fabric of Hawaii. Let us act now so Hawaii’s future generations never have to experience what we most recently had to endure.
This Fourth of July weekend, take real action for liberty and let your legislator know why we need to restore the constitutional balance of powers by ensuring that SB3089 becomes law.
Keli‘i Akina is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.