Lee Cataluna: It's An Emergency! How Proclamations Cut Through Hawaii Bureaucracy - Honolulu Civil Beat


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Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Opinion article badgeOne of the last things David Ige did as governor was to issue an emergency proclamation.

One of the first things Josh Green has done as governor is to issue an emergency proclamation.

That’s how things get done in Hawaii these days. It’s not a holdover from the pandemic years, nor is Hawaii perpetually in a state of emergency, at least not in any action-movie, Armageddon sense of the word. It’s just what has to happen to get things to move.

There was a time when an emergency proclamation meant there was some sort of actual emergency, either present or impending — like a huge storm bearing down on the island chain or roads being washed out by monster surf.

Now, declaring an emergency is a way to hack through maddening bureaucracy and sidestep cumbersome laws so that practical things can get done. An emergency declaration can get past tricky procurement laws and complicated union agreements. It opens up pipelines of government money. It’s like hitting a big green button that says, “Get it done!”

We may think back to the Ige days as somnolent and the opposite of action-packed, but over his eight years in office, Ige issued more than 120 emergency proclamations, many of them pandemic-related, many about storms we’ve long since forgotten (Hurricanes Madeleine and Lester … whodat?) and many to address homelessness.

Currently, there are four active statewide emergency proclamations, three of which are Ige holdovers:

On Nov. 17, Ige extended emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits through to the middle of January to address food security during the holidays.

On Nov. 18, Ige extended emergency disaster relief for the Maui axis deer crisis. (The relief is not for the deer. The emergency is that there are way too many of them. The relief is low-interest loans for farmers and ranchers to build fences and for the “culling of deer to acceptable levels,” a euphemism for smoked deer meat at a lot of Makawao Christmas parties this year.)

Governor David Ige proclaims October 2022 as Civics Awareness Month.
Gov. David Ige extended several emergency proclamations just before leaving office. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

On Nov. 28, Ige issued an emergency proclamation triggered by the Mauna Loa eruption in case the state needed to help with damages and “to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the people.”  No one got hurt, little damage was reported, and scientists are saying the eruption is over, but that proclamation will stand through January.

Green’s first emergency proclamation allows the Hawaii National Guard and emergency medical teams from other states to run interisland air ambulance service while the Hawaii Life Flight fleet is in a safety stand down after one of its air ambulance planes went missing off Maui. You would not think a supremely practical plan like that would require an emergency declaration, but this is Hawaii, where licensing, regulating and oversight — preferably by multiple understaffed agencies — is how we always roll.

The extensive use of emergency declarations is a sign, almost an acknowledgement, that the system is broken. Hawaii’s layers upon layers of bureaucratic requirements make any sort of nimble response to a serious situation impossible. The best bet is to hack through the jungle of mandates with the sharp edge of an emergency proclamation so that basic, necessary maneuvers can be accomplished, like making sure doctors from out of state can work in Hawaii while the state’s only air ambulance company is on a temporary shutdown.

Every January, Hawaii legislators get to work with best intentions to make Hawaii better so they craft thousands of new bills, many if not most of which create new rules and new layers of bureaucracy to manage every facet of life in Hawaii.

As psychologist Abraham Maslow said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, it’s tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Top of the to-do list for the upcoming session may be thinking about ways to make state government more agile in reacting to all the things that can mess up life and property in these islands. Fewer hammers. Less bureaucracy. More finesse and agility.

Perhaps what is needed is the opposite approach at the Legislature: instead of a focus on making new laws, a fresh commitment to cull through the overpopulated herd of hurdles and to repeal some measures that never worked, can’t be enforced, are outdated or just get in the way.

Not every urgent problem in Hawaii can be reasonably classified as an emergency, but if that’s the most expeditious way to get things fixed, ring the alarm and let’s get stuff done.


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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org


Latest Comments (0)

For the most part I think elections here are a joke, along the lines of "you can get your Model T in any color you want as long as it is black". I lived in a democrat ruled state (still is btw) before moving here. I didn't expect politics here to be much different, but I was way wrong. At least they seemed to try to be different from each other. And no, I will never move back to where I came from. It would be better to change things here. Just keep trying.

BumbleBall · 1 month ago

Rule by executive fiat is what authoritarian dictators do. The whole point of a House and Senate is debate and consensus.

WildJim · 1 month ago

Ms. Cataluna I normally would side with your commentaries but this is one of those that I need to debate about before I can back your report. One of the last Proclamations Ex-Governor IGE made didn't make one bit of sense to do except to put the word " Laziness and not really caring " the NEW Governor Greene's Proclamation was extremely important to get underway, Having the National Guard do the Emergency Medical transportations because the horrible loss of the Medical aircraft and possibly the 3 man crew out weighs how IGE and any of the Proclamation(s) he made duration in Office. This was a proper use of Emergency Proclamations.

unclebob61 · 1 month ago

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