HONOLULU — State lawmakers will reconvene starting Monday for at least six legislative days to address an estimated $1 billion budget shortfall brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, House and Senate leaders said Thursday.
House Speaker Scott Saiki acknowledged the governor’s stay-at-home order remained in effect through the end of May but said lawmakers felt it was necessary to address the budget.
Hawaii tax revenues have dropped sharply as the number of tourists arriving in the islands has slowed to a trickle, in part because of the 14-day quarantine imposed on travelers. The closure of retailers, restaurants and businesses has also depressed revenue.
Senate President Ron Kouchi said senators will also be voting on the governor’s appointments to boards and commissions. He said those bodies need to fill positions so they achieve quorum.
Kouchi said his chamber would need about nine or 10 days to evaluate the appointments.
Some options for addressing the revenue shortfall include eliminating vacant positions throughout government and authorizing the state to borrow money from a federal liquidity fund. Another possibility is allowing the state to borrow money to finance contributions to the state pension fund.
The House Finance and Senate Ways and Means committees will hold hearings in the Capitol’s auditorium, which has more space than typical meeting rooms for social distancing.
During floor sessions, some members of the House will sit in the gallery to leave enough space between legislators.
The Capitol building will remain closed to the public. The proceedings will be broadcast live instead.
Members of the public may submit written testimony, but not oral testimony. Saiki said this was because only two rooms at the Capitol are capable of livestreaming at once time. He said lawmakers are working to expand this livestreaming capacity in the future.
It’s possible the legislature could reconvene again in June to bring up other legislation, depending on what conditions are like.
Lawmakers suspended the current legislative session in mid-March to comply with government guidelines to maintain social distancing as the coronavirus spread in the United States.
As of Thursday, 629 people in Hawaii have tested positive for COVID-19, an increase of three from the day before. Seventeen have died.