House and Senate lawmakers resumed state budget negotiations Thursday, agreeing to add 20 positions and $1.27 million for the state Department of Health’s fight against the dengue fever outbreak on the Big Island and the threat of the Zika virus.

Gov. David Ige had asked the Legislature to add 33 positions and $2.34 million to manage these types of “newly emerging public health threats” that are spread by mosquitoes and other animals.

He signed an emergency proclamation in February to free up 10 positions and $2 million to bolster the state’s efforts to get a handle on the dengue outbreak on the Big Island. There were 263 confirmed cases, with illnesses reported between Sept. 11 and March 17.

House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke and Senate WAM chair Jill Tokuda in meeting. 21 april 2016.
House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke, left, and Senate Ways and Means Chair Jill Tokuda announce budget decisions during a conference committee meeting Thursday at the Capitol. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

As of Thursday, there were no longer any potentially infectious cases, according to the Health Department.

The state slashed the Vector Control Branch’s funding in 2010 during the recession, and there have been additional budget cuts and furloughs. The new positions will help re-establish the branch, according to House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke.

“Infectious disease has been and will continue to be one of our key challenges in a world made smaller and more connected with modern day air travel,” Senate Ways and Means Chair Jill Tokuda said in a news release. “The state’s recent slow response to the dengue fever outbreak on the Big Island was a wake-up call for all us. We must be more vigilant in anticipating and responding to such outbreaks spread by mosquitoes and other vectors.”

The state had 25 vector control positions before the dengue fever outbreak in October 2015 but eight were vacant, according to the release. With the 20 new positions, there would be a total of 45 people in vector control when all positions are filled, the release says.

Thursday was the second day of budget deliberations for the joint House-Senate conference committee. The panel is set to resume its work at 2:30 p.m. Friday in trying to reach agreement on the overall $13 billion spending plan for fiscal 2017, which starts July 1.

The deadline for all fiscal bills to pass out of committee is April 29.

Here are some of the other highlights of Thursday’s agreements, from the release:

  • $6.9 million for public school transportation services;
  • $5.2 million for utilities for public schools;
  • $2.5 million for new fire trucks, firefighter equipment and fire retardant suits to ensure airport safety;
  • $1.5 million to fund a U.S. geographical survey study on Hawaii streams;
  • $1.4 million for port security and safety boats to reduce impact of natural disasters;
  • $1.25 million for maintenance and replacement of equipment at UH community colleges;
  • $400,000 to support beach restoration and protection projects and studies;
  • $180,000 for hydrologist and project development specialist positions for public land management for the disposition of water rights lease management and oversight; and
  • $162,354 for physician salary increases for better access to medical services for the Department of Public Safety.

For more details, view the budget worksheets here.

Read past Civil Beat coverage of how Hawaii’s cuts to pest control allowed dengue to thrive here.

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