Conferees Agree to Add 20 Positions to Vector Control

April 21, 2016, 5:11 PM HST · Updated April 22, 7:49 AM
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Legislative Conference Committee Begins Budget Negotiations. Photo credit: Hawaiʻi State Legislature.

Legislative Conference Committee Begins Budget Negotiations. Photo credit: Hawaiʻi State Legislature.

With heightened vigilance amid the recent dengue fever outbreak on Hawaiʻi Island and the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil, House and Senate conferees today agreed to provide $1,270,120 to bolster the state Department of Health’s Vector Control Branch.

Before the dengue fever outbreak in October, 2015, the state had 25 vector control positions, but 8 were vacant. With the added 20 new positions, there will be a total of 45 people in vector control when all positions are filled.

“This funding will help re-establish the vector control branch, which has been reduced over the past few years by furloughs and budget cuts,” said Sylvia Luke, chairperson of the House Finance Committee. “In making these appropriations, the department will be able to add 20 new positions to monitor populations of vectors such as mosquitoes and rats, and to respond appropriately when a threat arises.”

Dengue vector control. Photo credit: Hawaiʻi District Health Office.

Dengue vector control. Photo credit: Hawaiʻi District Health Office.

House and Senate conferees said they want to ensure that the state is prepared to adequately short circuit, monitor and respond to any future outbreaks.

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“Infectious disease has been and will continue to be one of our key challenges in a world made smaller and more connected with modern day air travel,” said Jill Tokuda, chairperson of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “The state’s recent slow response to the dengue fever outbreak on the Big Island was a wake-up call for all us. We must be more vigilant in anticipating and responding to such outbreaks spread by mosquitoes and other vectors.”

In addition to the vector control funding, conferees also agreed upon budget items listed below:

  • $6.9 million for public school transportation services;
  • $5.2 million for utilities for public schools;
  • $2.5 million for new fire trucks, firefighter equipment and fire retardant suits to ensure airport safety;
  • $1.5 million to fund a US geographical survey study on Hawaiʻi streams;
  • $1.4 million for port security and safety boats to reduce impact of natural disasters;
  • $1.25 million for maintenance and replacement of equipment at UH community colleges;
  • $400,000 to support beach restoration and protection projects and studies;
  • $180,000 for hydrologist and project development specialist positions for public land management for the disposition of water rights lease management and oversight; and
  • $162,354 for physician salary increases for better access to medical services for the Department of Public Safety.

The agreements were part of House and Senate conferees continued negotiations on a final version of HB1700, the state budget bill. Earlier in the session, the House Finance Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee crafted their respective versions of the budget.

Lawmakers will continue to meet to iron out differences between the two versions through April 29, the deadline for all fiscal bills to pass out of conference committee. A final conference draft will then be voted upon by the Legislature and if approved, will be sent to the Governor for his signature.

The conference committee is scheduled to reconvene on Friday, April 22, at 2:30 p.m.

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