(BIVN) – The Hawaiʻi County Council is considering new legislation that will revise the code relating to the Hawaiʻi County Civil Defense, and the public is questioning some of the proposed changes.
Puna councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz has introduced Bill 195, which will amend the Hawaiʻi County Code to bring it more in line with the State of Hawaiʻi. The bill proposes various revisions to clarify civil defense duties, emergency action plan requirements, and the Mayor’s emergency powers.
On Tuesday, the Hawaiʻi County Council’s Committee on Parks and Recreation and Public Safety held a hearing on the bill.
Public testimony focused on Section 7-1-6, which deals with “Emergency Powers”. The draft bill provides the following language:
(a) The power to declare a state of disaster or emergency by proclamation, promulgate emergency rules having the force and effect of law, and make allotments of funds appropriated or available for emergency management is conferred on the mayor.
(b) All County employees are considered emergency workers during a declared emergency.
(c) All County employees, accepted volunteers and non-governmental organization workers providing services in coordination with the County, except in cases of willful misconduct, gross negligence, or recklessness shall not be liable for death and injury to persons or property damage as an act or omission in the course of employment of duties
(d) The mayor may exercise the following additional powers in an emergency period: 1) Suspend any County law that impedes or tends to impede or be detrimental to the expeditious and efficient execution of, or to conflict with, emergency functions; 2) Shut off water mains, gas mains, electrical power connections, or suspend other services; 3) To the extent permitted by or under Federal law, suspend electronic media transmission; and 4) Direct and control the mandatory evacuation of the civilian population.
Some testifiers were concerned about granting the County the power to “suspend electronic media transmission” during an emergency.
“I know that … you’re just codifying a state law,” said Dane DuPont, an administrator with Hawaiʻi Tracker, “but the state made a mistake.”
“The State of Hawaiʻi is the only state in which such a law exists to suspend electronic media transmission,” DuPont noted. “I would recommend the county not reinforce it by codifying it to the Hawaiʻi County Code. Once passed, something like this is magnitudes more difficult to revise.”
“I’m also concerned about the suspending electronic media transmission,” testified Cory Harden. “That could affect not only internet, but also local news broadcasters and internet media. After there is a tsunami or hurricane or some disaster that knocks out the normal information sources, these less formal sources may be a vital source of information.”
Councilmember Kierkiewicz said she spoke to Hawaiʻi Emergency Management administrator Luke Meyers about the language. “I just want to be super, super clear about what that exactly entails,” she said. “It has to do with the hardened infrastructure. Sometimes systems are overloaded and they need to be re-stabilized. So, it’s a simple matter of restoring, restarting a system. Rebooting so that communication can go out to community. This has nothing to do with suspending the communication that’s going out by civil defense, or the media, or community partners. We don’t want that.”
“In a time of disaster, we want to make sure all the information is getting out to community, so that we are preserving public health and safety,” Kierkiewicz said. “This really has to do with stabilizing our communication infrastructure system. So, I hope that kind of assuages concerns from my colleagues as well as members of the community.”
“What I would suggest is to tweak it a bit,” recommended Hilo councilman Aaron Chung, who thought Councilmember Kierkiewicz’ explanation was “far more clear than what the State came up with.”
“So maybe, in that regard, talk about infrastructure so that there’s no confusion,” Chung said. “That’s just my suggestion.”
The council postponed a vote on the bill so that some changes can be made. The same committee will have another hearing on the measure in September.