(BIVN) – The Hawaiʻi State Legislature is being suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate President Ronald D. Kouchi and House Speaker Scott K. Saiki held a press conference on Monday afternoon to discuss the suspension of the 2020 Legislative Session due to COVID-19 concerns immediately following today’s floor sessions in Room 309.
UPDATE (2 p.m.) – The following joint news release was issued by both the Hawaiʻi House and Senate:
House Speaker Scott K. Saiki and Senate President Ronald D. Kouchi today announced that they are taking steps to prepare the State Legislature for actions needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the health and well-being of the public. One such immediate measure is the suspension of the legislative session indefinitely, starting on Tuesday, March 17.
Last week the Director-General for the World Health Organization characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic, and President Trump proclaimed the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency. This month Governor Ige issued an emergency proclamation that allows the state to work quickly to stop the spread of the disease.
“We’re currently at a point in the legislative session where key legislation is being advanced and members of the public feel compelled to be here to testify on important issues,” said Speaker Saiki. “We want to protect those who would otherwise feel compelled to be here.”
The Hawaiʻi State Capitol is the primary workplace of the Governor, the Lt. Governor, and State lawmakers, as well as support agencies, including the Department of Accounting and General Services and the Department of Public Safety.
“On any given day, hundreds of people visit and work at the State Capitol. To combat the spread of COVID-19, it is important that we limit gatherings, especially those involving vulnerable populations,” said President Kouchi.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that individuals practice “social distancing”, which means remaining out of crowded public places where close contact with others may occur, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance—approximately 6 feet—from others when possible.
In its COVID-19 Daily Update dated March 13, 2020, the Hawaiʻi Department of Health provides guidance on public events and group gatherings:
The Department of Health is recommending gatherings held in enclosed spaces that do not allow social distancing also be postponed or canceled or held virtually. When possible, attendees should be about two-arms-length or six feet apart. Elderly adults and those with underlying health conditions who are at a greater risk for COVID-19 or respiratory illnesses should avoid attending large public gatherings.
“Both chambers have consulted with their colleagues and decided this is the right thing to do in light of the current circumstances. This decision was made out of an abundance of caution and we will resume the session at a future date,” said President Kouchi.
“We appreciate the understanding and flexibility of the people of Hawaiʻi while we as a state work to prepare and protect our communities,” added Speaker Saiki.
Legislative leaders will be in contact with each other and will reassess the situation daily. Speaker Saiki and President Kouchi will declare through a signed memorandum the day and time to reconvene the session.