The Legislature plans to recess indefinitely beginning Tuesday amid concerns that public gatherings could spread the novel coronavirus.

The Legislature voted Monday to suspend the session until House Speaker Scott Saiki and Senate President Ron Kouchi decide that it should reconvene.

The resolution notes a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that restricts public gatherings of 50 or more people.

Senate President Ron Kouchi and Speaker Scott Saiki announce an unprecedented recess due to COVID-19 at the Capitol.
At the Capitol Monday House and Senate leaders announced an unprecedented recess due to COVID-19. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

President Donald Trump said at a press conference Monday morning that gatherings should be limited to just 10 people.

All public hearings, as well as any floor sessions of the Legislature, are cancelled.

That means that all the bills pending in the Legislature including a joint package to raise minimum wage, develop affordable housing and expand pre-K education have been suspended.

Numerous funding proposals that include repairs to Aloha Stadium, money to fund collective bargaining agreements, and emergency funds to fight COVID-19 are all on hold as well.

But Saiki and Kouchi said that Gov. David Ige’s administration has enough funds in reserve to cover some emergencies, including funding for COVID-19.

The 2020 session, which opened Jan. 15, is scheduled to run until May 7. Though the resolution says lawmakers will recess at least three days, Kouchi and Saiki indicated at a press conference Monday at the Capitol that it could be longer.

They would only reconvene in an emergency situation, such as the state treasury going bankrupt, Saiki said.

Some state legislatures have already suspended sessions or limited public access. The Georgia Legislature suspended its session Thursday, while the Pennsylvania Legislature limited building access to employees.

But while the session will be recessed, legislators and their staffs will still be in their offices.

“We will be here. We will be working,” Saiki said. “This will be a very dynamic recess for us.”

Kouchi said working, and eventually reconvening, will be particularly hard for neighbor island lawmakers who frequent the state’s airports.

They’ve explored other options beside suspending the session, such as compressing the calendar to adjourn in April. But Kouchi said those solutions proved unworkable.

Kouchi said they’ve also explored videoconferencing, but need to wait on an opinion from the state Attorney General to see if the constitution allows that. The Legislature is also exploring what equipment they would need to make that possible.

During the recess, lawmakers and their staffs will still be paid, Saiki said.

When asked if there is a deadline for the Legislature to reconvene, Kouchi said there is none.

“To speculate on something I can’t even imagine today would not do anybody any good,” Kouchi said.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author