HONOLULU(KHON2)–Emotions ran high in Friday’s special Senate Committee meeting on COVID-19. Senators accused the governor’s chief of staff of censoring information and reprimanded the director of human resources for not responding to redeployment of state workers with a sense of urgency.
The budget shortfall and the redeployment of state workers to help in the unemployment office and other areas were just two topics discussed in the meeting. Senators didn’t hide their disapproval with how both issues were being handled.
The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) was short-staffed even before COVID-19.
Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz said the state also needs help calling and tracking visitors who arrive in Hawaii and the Department of Health needs 100 additional workers.
So why haven’t state workers, that aren’t currently working due to the stay-at-home order, been sent to fill those positions?
Department of Human Resources (DHRD) Director Ryker Wada said part of what’s happening is they’re vetting people for redeployment and making sure they have the right skill-set.
“I know we have very skilled workers…you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do screening. We just have to have willing bodies… That’s what we’re talking about. Using those bodies, not next week…the bottom line is we need to be proactive,” Sen. Kurt Fevella said.
Sen. Michelle Kidani, Fevella and Dela Cruz all said they had offered their own staff to be used to fill needed positions weeks ago, but were turned down.
Dela Cruz and Kidani grilled Wada for wasting time, and expressed frustration that DHRD is now considering using their staff.
“This has been going on for three weeks and we told you before DLIR requested employees and it was turned down…It seems like we’re imploding from the inside,” Kidani said.
Dela Cruz said DHRD’s lack of action was unacceptable and pointed out that they shouldn’t be using National Guard to fill job openings when the state has capable workers, currently sitting at home, who can do it.
Wada explained that DHRD was giving some people an option to work.
“We should be redeploying people much faster instead of using the National Guard…There are lots of things we need help with and at some point it’s not going to be a volunteer thing,” Dela Cruz said.
Things got even more heated when Dela Cruz questioned the governor’s Chief of Staff Linda Chu Takayama about withholding information about the budget.
“Yesterday, I made phone calls to different departments and they said they were told not to send (budget information) to us,” Dela Cruz said.
Takayama explained that she thought it would be better if information first went through The Department of Budget and Finance first.
“If there’s a sense of urgency, why are you continuing to filter and delay?” Dela Cruz asked.
Takayama again tried to explain that she felt BNF should look at it first.
“That’s for us to determine, not you…This is the third time you filtered and censored information…the departments are supposed to respond to the Legislature…This committee is seriously thinking of sending the governor a vote of no confidence in your ability… I just don’t understand why you continue to delay information and not allow us to do our job,” Dela Cruz said.
Fevella asked Takayama whether the governor had given her authority to withhold information.
“The governor is aware,” Takayama said.
“So the governor himself asked you and the departments not to respond?” asked Dela Cruz.
“I kept him informed and he did not object,” Takayama said.
The tense discussion continued for several more minutes before Takayama said again that she would talk to BNF and get the budget information to the Special Senate Committee on COVID-19 on Monday.