Highlights of Hawai‘i State Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 meeting of Friday, April 17

With the Governor’s announcement of an eviction moratorium that day, Attorney General Clare Connors discussed with the committee landlord-tenant issues.

The moratorium prevents evictions until April 30, but this date may be extended in a future proclamation. Per the committee’s request, the AG will confirm whether the moratorium applies to court-ordered evictions already in process and new eviction proceedings.

The Special Committee also requests that the AG verify what is covered by the rent freeze, whether specific fees such as late fees can accrue during this period, as well as parking fees and charges on electricity usage can be increased during this period.

Catherine Awakuni Colon, Director of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, followed up by reporting that their call center is taking about 50 calls per day concerning landlord-tenant issues. The center staff responds to both voice mails and email messages. Per the committee’s request, the department will provide a report on the numbers and sources of consumer contacts.

For landlords with a federally backed mortgage, they can receive some relief from the federal government in the form of the CARES Act, which allows for mortgage payments to be deferred until the end of July. For landlords with a private mortgage, most local banks appear to be willing to work with mortgage holders on revised payment plans or other remedies.

Per the committee’s request, the department will provide information and links to information regarding renter and landlord relief. It will also update all information to account for the new emergency proclamation, eviction moratorium, rent freeze, and other issues raised. Contact information for all relevant programs will be included.

Linda Chu Takayama, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, reported that the State is projecting a shortfall of between $1.2-$1.5 billion in this year’s fiscal budget. The initial budget for FY2020 was $8 billion. There is a $7 billion carryover, but some funds have already been spent. The current monthly expense rate is $550 million.

She said we will have a better idea of the state’s economic condition when April’s revenue report comes out on May 10. This report will also show the initial impact of the two statewide measures enacted in March regarding the stay-at-home and travel quarantine orders.

While the Committee on Ways and Means is requesting departments to offer plans to cut budgets by 16%, 25% and 30% in order to find savings through program changes before further discussion of furloughs and pay cuts that were brought up by the Governor, Chu Takayama indicated that those requests were being filtered through the Department of Budget and Finance.

Because of that, the Special Committee expressed its extreme dismay that its requests for information were once again being censored by the Administration. Citing numerous issues of delays and obstruction since the beginning of this societal emergency, the Special Committee reminded the Governor’s Chief of Staff that the departments are legally required to respond and that the Administration seriously take into account the unique nature of the state’s situation in regards to the pandemic and the critical need to quickly share information.

The Special Committee indicated that the Senate would need to consider a vote of no-confidence and may pursue a subpoena of the information, should these issues with the Administration continue.

Chris Tatum, CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), and Ford Fuchigami, Administrative Services Officer for the Department of Transportation Airports Division, also gave reports to the Special Committee.

The HTA’s “Hotels for Heroes” program allows first responders and health care workers to stay in a hotel free of charge. To date, over 900 nightly stays have been booked. Each stay costs $85 plus taxes and fees. The HTA is using funding from its sports event marketing budget.

Regarding the 14-day visitor and returning resident quarantine program, airlines are being asked to alert passengers to the quarantine and the program requirements through their websites, reservation confirmation communications, and boarding gate announcements.

Per the committee’s request, copies of the Governor’s emergency proclamation will be sent to all CEOs of airlines that fly to the state, as well as have the HTA confirm what social distancing tools are being employed by said airlines.

The presentations by the HTA and the Airports Division covered the procedure of how passengers are taken through the screening process once they deplane:

  • Passengers who pass the temperature check hand their completed forms to a screener at the bottom of the jetway. The forms are checked for full completion. The screener compares the passenger’s identification to the information on the form.

  • Passengers who refused to complete the forms while onboard are given the option of completing the forms there or face arrest by law enforcement.

  • Passengers falsifying the information on the forms are referred to law enforcement and face arrest.

  • Those who complete the form accurately are then given self-quarantine program forms to complete and sign. The screener verifies those completed forms and serves as a lead witness.

  • The screener checks the phone contact info by calling the passenger’s cell phone while the passenger is present. If the phone doesn’t verify contact, the passenger is referred to law enforcement.

  • For visiting passengers, the screener also calls the hotel the visitor has given to confirm reservations.

  • Anyone who does not have a reservation is given the option of taking a return flight immediately or being arrested. Most airlines will put the visitor on a return flight. The HTA has a fund to pay for flight the airlines will not cover. To date, the agency has paid for 11 return flights.

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