RELEASE: Legislature snubs public input on federal relief funds

Undemocratic process leaves urgent community needs unaddressed

HONOLULU, June 23, 2020 — This afternoon, on the second day of the legislature’s three-week reconvened session, a powerful committee unilaterally passed a bill to spend $635 million in CARES Act funds without allowing any public hearings. The Hawaiʻi Working Families Coalition condemns this move, calling it a breach of public trust and an affront to the democratic process.

“Democracy means that the public has the right to be heard, and the legislature has taken away this right,” said Sandy Ma, Executive Director of Common Cause Hawaiʻi. “We still live in a democracy and public voices matter.”

Legislative leadership held a press conference on Friday outlining their plans to distribute $635 million in CARES Act funds. Community advocates said this plan was a good first step and were calling for additional improvements to support families hit hard by COVID-19. 

But instead of allowing the regular process of public engagement, legislative leadership put their CARES Act plan into a bill that was able to skip straight to the end of the process without any public hearings or testimony.

“Families could’ve used more help with food and many have lost their health insurance — the current bill doesn’t address these needs,” said Deborah Zysman, Executive Director of Hawaiʻi Children’s Action Network. “Our kūpuna remain vulnerable, and many immigrants still havenʻt received any government support.”

Typically, the legislature schedules multiple hearings for each bill it considers, which allows the public to provide testimony. Even during this abbreviated reconvening, the legislature has scheduled hearings for other bills.

Yet for this singularly important bill to disburse CARES Act funds, the legislature used a trick to bypass the typical public engagement process. They found another bill, SB 126 — which had already made it through the public hearing process — then deleted its old text and replaced it with the CARES Act spending plan.

This newly “gutted and replaced” bill was not posted for public review before its hearing this afternoon. It doesn’t need any further hearings, so it will now head to a vote by the full legislature before being sent for the governor’s signature.

Last month, Governor David Ige had called on the CARES Act funds to be distributed through the legislative process “to facilitate additional discussion and transparency.”

“If we are going to successfully face Hawaiʻi’s complex challenges, we need all of Hawaiʻi’s people contributing to the solutions,” said Gavin Thornton, Executive Director of the Hawaiʻi Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. “Our strength is our people. A process like this, which excludes our people, is a recipe for failure.”

The Working Families Coalition calls on the legislature to reintroduce the language of SB 126 CD1 as a different bill, one that will be posted publicly for review prior to committee hearings that will accept public testimony, before the legislative session ends on July 10.


Media contact: Ryan Catalani
[email protected]
(808) 531-5502 ext. 4

Read or download the Working Families Coalition’s plan for federal relief funds: 

About the Working Families Coalition: The Working Families Coalition is a diversified group of 30+ nonprofit organizations, academia, unions and community advocates fighting for Hawaii's families through policy, advocacy, and education. For more information, visit

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.