After a two month recess, the Hawai‘i State Legislature reconvened for eight days in May. Their primary goal was to balance the state’s budget and allocate federal COVID-19 relief funds. In addition to the budget matters, the Senate also held confirmation hearings for people to be appointed to boards and commissions.

Through the CARES Act’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, the state of Hawai‘i received a total of $1.25 billion dollars for state and local governments to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The only caveats are that these federal funds can only be used on COVID-19 response, that funds cannot cover previously budgeted items prior to March 27, 2020, and that funds must be spent by December 30, 2020. Some notable highlights:

  • The City and County of Honolulu received their share of $387 million directly from the federal government, while the counties of Hawai‘i, Maui and Kaua‘i were allocated their portion from the state’s share, receiving $80 million, $66.5 million, and $28.7 million respectively through SB75.
  • The Department of Defense, Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, and Department of Human Services also received initial allocations of the state’s share of Coronavirus Relief funds, totaling $51.5 million.
  • A total of $1.3 billion was infused into the Emergency Budget and Reserve or “Rainy Day” fund, with $636 million from the remaining portion of Coronavirus Relief funds and $710 million shifted from other state funds or allocated from general funds (SB3139).

Meanwhile, the special COVID-19 House and Senate Committees continue to meet during the recess. The House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness works with representatives from government, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to focus on the state’s economic recovery and public health response, while the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 works with state departments on their plans, procedures, and response to COVID-19.

The legislature has reconvened again for ten days (starting June 22). Revisiting the budget and expending CARES funds will be a high priority, with the looming deadline to spend federal funds by the end of the year and worrisome projections from the state Council on Revenues estimating a combined $2.3 billion reduction in tax revenue for fiscal year 2020 and 2021 in late May. The Legislature will also look at extending laws that are scheduled to “sunset” or expire in June 2020. When the Legislature recessed in mid-March, it occurred right before the critical Second Lateral deadline, and suddenly the fate of hundreds of bills were left in limbo. As mentioned in our earlier session update, several of HIPHI’s priority bills are still alive. We remain hopeful that some of the priority bills will move forward, as issues that existed before COVID-19 still need to be addressed, but also understand that these are unprecedented times and other issues are higher priority for the state to address.