Incoming travel has just about been eliminated. The hotels and airlines are shutting down, restaurants and many businesses have closed, and residents are staying home.

At some point soon our broader community conversation must shift from the fear and response of the moment, to our hope and plans for the future.

And yes, for now anyway we must have this conversation from home.

As a former legislator who served at both the state and county level, I tend to look at problems and challenges through a public policy lens:

  • How do we maximize the opportunity for a strong economic “bounce back” once the pandemic has peaked and life starts returning to normal?
  • How do we immediately and boldly charge down the long overdue path of food self-sufficiency?
  • What about the 48% of those who were already living on the edge of poverty, prior the the arrival of COVID-19?
  • The homeless situation is only going to get worse. How do we get ahead of this issue in a humane and economically sensible way?
  • Can we use this emergency to make our government better and more accessible by offering statewide access and remote testimony?
  • How can we improve our health care system to ensure that no one will be denied treatment, and our hospitals and medical facilities remain strong?

For each of these challenges there are public policy proposals now in place that await legislative leadership. Some measures sit in the form of bills introduced during the 2019-2020 legislative session and others will need to be amended and/or added to existing legislative vehicles.

COVID-19 / Coronavirus Committee Hearing held at the Legislature Chaired by Speaker Scott Saiki.
The state House COVID-19 special committee meeting at the Capitol March 12. Hawaii must begin talking today about making the state far more self-sustaining economically. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

When the 2020 legislative session resumes, the state House and Senate could and should “re-boot” an array of legislative vehicles, hold the necessary public hearings (avoiding the issues with “gut and replace”), and appropriately address these pressing needs.

The list and suggestions contained here are not all-inclusive, but rather intended to show clear examples of what can and should be done.

We need construction jobs and we need to invest in rebuilding our public infrastructure. Investing in construction is an obvious and important part of getting our economy back on its feet.

At some point we also must kick-start our visitor industry back into gear. Both are pillars of our economy.

Grow Local

We need construction projects that reflect good planning and benefit our community, without sacrificing our natural environment. We need a visitor industry with limits, that pays its own way, and that caters to travelers who are mindful of their impact and who tread lightly when they visit our special places.

The fragility of our “supply chain” and the need for food self-sufficiency has never been so apparent. We must attack this challenge with the commitment it deserves. There are many, many ways to tackle this issue and it starts with requiring all state and county-owned institutions that serve food, to whenever possible purchase only locally grown agricultural products.

Imagine the immediate impact on local food production if every public school, every UH campus, every jail and prison, and every public medical facility were required to purchase their food from local farmers and ranchers.

The economically vulnerable 48% are likely post COVID-19 to be closer to 70% of our population. Now is not the time to balance the state budget on their backs. Hard-earned and much-deserved tax credits and modest incremental wage increases must be preserved and in fact expanded.

We must attack this challenge with the commitment it deserves.

Those who are houseless require multi-faceted support delivered via intensive individual case management. Mental health services, shelter availability, job training, and access to food and medical services — all must be managed by qualified, trained service providers.

There is a public price to pay no matter what. An investment in expanded support services and additional trained social workers is both morally and economically the right thing to do.

Creating a system that allows everyone in Hawaii to participate in delivering testimony to the state Legislature and other public institutions, without having to fly to Oahu is long overdue. One-third of our population is effectively disenfranchised by the current system. During the current COVID-19 crisis that number is closer to 100%.

With the wide availability of modern communication technology there is no legitimate excuse to continue delaying the implementation of a system that would allow remote testimony and public participation, regardless of where you live.

The revamping and providing of increased support for Hawaii’s health care system is above my pay grade. While I still have a lot to learn about this topic, I do know one thing for sure. This whole experience has reaffirmed that people’s health care should not be tied to their employment. Hawaii’s residents deserve single-payer universal health care.

Legislative leadership together with the chairs of key committees can start this process now without convening formal in-person meetings. Discussions with experts, agencies and key stakeholders can be held remotely and proposed amendment language developed.

Then, when it’s safe and appropriate to reconvene the legislative session, the bills can be promptly scheduled, hearings held, the measures amended as needed, and then passed into law.

Yes. Let’s turn our attention toward utilizing the urgency of the moment to create something good for our future. We need to stay home and hunker down, but also get moving toward making that lemonade.

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