HB 1286, HD 2 – Uniform Travel Policy for Covid-19 in Hawaii

Picture of the Hawaii State House

By: J. S.

Hawaii may soon see a uniform travel policy across all islands. House Bill 1286 aims to do just that. The bill aims to take a statewide approach to the safe travels program while still allowing the department of health to take necessary action to protect public health as supported by risk-based and scientific approaches to contagion mitigation. Source. Introduced on January 27 by a number of House members, HB 1286 is currently deferred in the senate. The bill’s stated purpose is to exempt any person from the post-arrival mandatory self quarantine if the person receives a negative test result prior to arrival. Allow the governor to establish statewide conditions for exemption. Require certain COVID-19 tests for travelers who do not have a test result upon arrival to avoid mandatory self-quarantine. Require any person who does not obtain a negative test result for COVID-19 pre-arrival to be responsible for all costs associated with that person’s mandatory self-quarantine.

Throughout the course of the last year, counties within the state have determined separately how to react to the pandemic, putting different travel measures in place. At certain points, travel restrictions differed whether one was traveling to Kauai or Maui county, for example. Not all counties opened to travelers at the same time, and at different points certain counties considered opting out of the states “Safe Travels Program” entirely, instead requiring that all visitors quarantine for a 14 day period. The mix of restrictions meant visitors and citizens of Hawaii needed to comply with individual county requirements for travel and quarantine. Travel between different islands for work was not exempt from differing rules, creating additional barriers for commerce. 

Hawaii’s vital tourism and restaurant industries have taken enormous hits to income over the last year, and a range of travel restrictions were an added weight to businesses working to make ends meet. Taxing businesses that did make it through the last year was not sufficient enough to fill the gap in the state’s budget, and the state now has an enormous budget shortfall. General excise tax and income taxes are essential to continuing core government services such as education, public health and safety, corrections, and infrastructure. When a county decides whether to reopen to visitors, it has far reaching fiscal impacts across the State. Furthermore, many neighboring island counties receive more than a per capita share of state financial resources. This is in large part due to subsidization by the State’s largest county, the city and county of Honolulu. Source.

The new bill would create one set of travel restrictions and Covid testing guidelines across all islands. All islands would need to comply with this set of rules, which means they would probably all be required to be a part of the Safe Travels Program, without the option to opt out. This streamlined approach may or may not work, as different counties have faced separate struggles over the last year, unique to each island. If the bill passes, the rules would remain in place until the end of the year, or at the end of the emergency orders for Covid-19 and traveling, whichever occurs first.

Hawaii went from once being the state with the lowest unemployment rate in the country to having the highest unemployment rate in 2020. At its peak, unemployment reached 23% statewide. Hawaii is facing an enormous shortage in tax funds, and the tourism economy is not expected to recover for a number of years. Businesses must be allowed to operate, and people allowed to travel, in order to help close the gap in the state’s budget. To follow legislative bills, visit capitol.hawaii.gov. The website is a resource to view current legislature, find your local representatives, and learn about local government.