State officials last month hired private security guards to check vaccination cards and Covid-19 test results for visitors to the Hawaii State Capitol, only to later learn the building will remain closed for the time being because of the omicron variant.

In the meantime, the contract with Alii Security Systems Inc. to provide the guards for the Capitol has been temporarily suspended after the U.S. Department of Labor concluded the company illegally denied overtime pay to its employees.

Alii Security has been ordered to pay nearly $1.48 million in back pay and damages to 171 guards in the federal case, and also ordered to pay $60,000 in civil penalties because of the “willful nature” of the violations, according to a written statement from the labor department.

The Department of Accounting and General Services had been poised to issue a notice to proceed for the Capitol contract, but State Comptroller Curt Otaguro said the state will suspend the Capitol contract until the matter is resolved.

“We just need to see them rectify that obligation — they have to pay,” Otaguro said.

This year’s legislative session is set to begin Wednesday at 10 a.m. with opening day floor sessions in the House and Senate. Although the building is closed, live feeds from both chambers will be available through the Legislature’s website.

The contract for security guards at the state Capitol has been put on hold for the time being, and the Capitol remains closed to the public. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat/2018

Investigators with the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found Alii Security established a voluntary program that offered guards more work hours if they waived their right to overtime pay and instead accepted straight-time pay for all hours worked.

According to the department, that amounted to an intentional violation of the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which mandates that most employees be paid overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week.

DAGS last month signed a deal to hire Alii Security for more than $127,000 to provide general security and also screen people as they enter the Capitol to attend hearings or speak with lawmakers.

The DAGS plan hit a snag when infections climbed rapidly because of the omicron variant, and lawmakers decided to keep the Capitol closed for the time being.

Access to the landmark Capitol building has been tightly controlled for lawmakers and staff, and it has been closed to the general public since March 19, 2020, when state Sen. Clarence Nishihara reported he tested positive for Covid-19. Nishihara has since recovered.

Otaguro told members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee earlier this month that his office committed federal pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to hire security guards for the six-month contract.

DAGS is seeking another $725,000 in state funds for security guard services at the Capitol for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Security at the Capitol has traditionally been provided by armed state deputy sheriffs along with unarmed sergeant-at-arms staff from the House and Senate, and that arrangement will continue for the time being, Otaguro said.

However, he noted that DAGS last year spent nearly $1.5 million expanding the security system and video monitoring at the Capitol to allow for “virtual patrolling” of the building.

Staff who answered the telephone at Alii Security said the company would have no comment on the status of the Capitol contract.

The company also has state contracts with the Hawaii National Guard, the Hawaii State Art Museum and other public and private entities, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

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