House Adjourns 2021 Legislative Session Focused on Balancing the Budget, Protecting Public Health, and Reopening the Economy
In a year overshadowed by COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers restore funding to critical social service and education programs, adopt structural and regulatory reforms
Honolulu, Hawaiʻi – The House of Representatives adjourned the 2021 Legislature sine die today, following a condensed 55 legislative day session.
Speaker Scott Saiki convened the 2021 legislative session in January with three priorities: addressing the budget shortfall, maintaining public health, and safely reopening the economy.
“Some say that the true test of leadership is how well you function in a crisis. House members rose to the challenge and seized the opportunity to make positive changes for the people of Hawaiʻi,” said Speaker Saiki.
Addressing the budget shortfall. When the legislative session began, the State was facing a deficit of nearly $2 billion. Governor David Ige was contemplating staff furloughs and presented to the Legislature a budget with deep cuts to programs and social services. Through a reduction of vacancies in state government, targeted cuts in agency budgets, and the deployment of federal funds, lawmakers were able to restore devastating cuts to critical social service needs in HB200 HD1 SD1 CD1.
“The $1.6 billion in federal funds received through the American Rescue Plan Act enabled us to plug a lot of gaps in the budget. In addition, we sharpened our pencils and looked for every cost savings opportunity and dollar squirreled away in special funds to pass a general fund budget that is about 7 percent less than the fiscal year 2021 base budget,” explained Representative Sylvia Luke, Chair of the House Finance Committee.
The budget shortfall also created an opportunity to fundamentally change government operations.
“Real leadership tackles difficult problems and comes up with solutions that have meaningful impacts,” said Majority Leader Della Au Belatti.
Significant bills were adopted to transfer O‘ahu’s Leahi Hospital and Maluhia facilities from the Hawai‘i Health Systems Corporation back to the Department of Health (SB 628 SD2 HD2 CD1), reform the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority to better respond to residents’ call for sustainable managed tourism (HB862 HD2 SD2 CD1), and transition ambulance services to the City and County of Honolulu (HB1281 HD1 SD2 CD1) to ensure more aggressive billing and collections practices while enabling more responsive and innovative services through community paramedicine initiatives.
Maintaining public health. When the 2021 legislative session began, Hawai‘i was experiencing the tail of its “second wave” in new COVID-19 cases, visitors were slowly returning to our islands, and vaccinations were just starting to be rolled out. The House helped to establish two mass community vaccination centers, helping to increase the number of residents receiving both vaccine doses from 20,477 on January 20 to 524,076 on April 28, 2021.
Measures were adopted to address other impacts of the pandemic. Financial support was provided to neighbor island health care systems, behavioral health programs, and domestic violence services (HB200 HD1 SD1 CD1). Lower monetary penalties for emergency order violations have been passed to mitigate unnecessary burdens on the judicial system but still hold people accountable to important public health emergency orders (SB540 SD1 HD2).
Reopening the economy. In January 2021, Hawai‘i was slowly recovering from the shutdown of our tourism industry. Unemployment rates were slowly declining from the peak of 21.9% in April 2020 to 9% in March 2021. Funds were appropriated to rescue the unemployment insurance system. Act 1 prevented dramatic increases in unemployment insurance rates for employers.
Since January, visitor arrivals have been increasing robustly. There were about 7,000 arrivals per day in January 2021; Hawai‘i is now seeing nearly 17,000 arrivals per day. Lawmakers were committed to having visitors pay more fees, rather than increasing taxes on residents. Reopening our economy means welcoming back tourists while also protecting our natural resources from the effects of over-tourism, climate change, and the constant encroachment by invasive species.
Measures were adopted to provide agencies responsible for natural resource management with dynamic pricing tools to sustainably manage use of our state parks and trails (HB1276 HD1 SD1 CD1), fund programs to combat invasive species such as the two-lined spittlebug and rapid ohia death (HB237 HD2 SD2 CD1 and HB200 HD1 SD1 CD1), set clean ground transportation goals (HB552 HD1 SD2 CD1), establish a stronger set of tools to build out electric vehicle charging systems (HB1142 HD2 SD2 CD1), and provide funding for a Green Job Youth Corps Program (HB1176 HD1 SD2 CD1).
“This year, lawmakers passed landmark bills that will lead to meaningful change for the next 50 years,” said Majority Leader Belatti.
Click here for a list of all bills that have passed final reading by the Hawai‘i State Legislature and now move to Governor David Ige for his consideration. The Governor has until June 21, 2021, to provide the Legislature with notification of his intent to veto.