Senate Bill Enables Governor to Mandate COVID-19 Screening for Travelers to Hawai‘i
The Hawai‘i State Senate on Monday passed legislation to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the islands by giving the Governor the ability to mandate screening of travelers to Hawaii and providing funds to screen to hotel workers.
HB2502, HD1 SD2 authorizes the state Department of Health to screen, test, and monitor travelers for COVID-19 upon declaration by the Governor that such actions are required. The bill also provides funding to hotels to conduct testing for employees, and establishes a travelers screening special fund utilizing funds from the Transient Accommodations Tax.
Senator Roz Baker, Chair of the Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health, noted that the bill was introduced at the request of the Attorney General of Hawai‘i to fight against COVID-19.
“The unprecedented pandemic has highlighted the need for our state to effectively respond to disease outbreaks,” said Senator Baker. “We have learned a great deal since March and this measure codifies elements that will help the Department of Health to have flexibility and efficiency in containing the spread of disease. Screening travelers is an important strategy in fighting the spread of disease, and this measure will allow the department the latitude to screen, test, and perform contact tracing for people who are infected or at risk of infection.”
Senator Baker also addressed concerns from some members of the public who gathered in opposition to the measure. She emphasized that:
- “This measure does NOT give the director of the Department of Health the authority to declare an emergency. That authority remains with the elected Governor of the State of Hawai‘i.”
- “Currently there is no vaccine for COVID-19. However, should one become available, this measure does NOT require vaccinations once a COVID-19 vaccine is available.”
Senator Jarrett Keohokalole of the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 also spoke in support, noting that “This bill takes the response actions already articulated in the Governor’s Emergency Proclamations and places them before the legislative branch, where they are better addressed under the constitution.”
He explained that while a federal court recently upheld the existing emergency orders, “in recognition of the democratic principles inherent in our constitution, I believe it is imperative that the legislature speak on the actions taken to address this once-in-a-century catastrophe.
“Regardless of the passage of this bill, the executive branch must still tailor its action to address the emergency narrowly and temporarily with a clearly explained justification that can withstand legal challenge,” said Senator Keohokalole. “For example, the bill, starting on page 13, specifically explains the due process rights of individuals subject to any of the provisions of this bill. This bill does not abrogate the constitution. It does not abrogate the provisions of any other statutes, and no other statutes abrogate the provisions of this bill.” He also noted that the provisions expire in two years.
HB2502, HD1 SD2, passed the Hawai‘i State Senate today by a vote of 20-4, with Senators Kurt Fevella, Mike Gabbard, Kai Kahele, and Russell Ruderman voting against passage. Senators Les Ihara and Donna Mercado Kim voted yes, with reservations.