The state of Hawaii will correct the process after discovering it didn’t hold Senate confirmation hearings for newly appointed deputy directors of state agencies as it should have.
In a Jan. 9 letter obtained by the Associated Press, the state’s interim attorney general, Russell Suzuki, said deputy directors for 11 state departments should be confirmed by the state Senate.
"In the past, confirmation hearings were not held for the appointment of deputy directors, however, based on our review, we have concluded that senate confirmation is needed for the nomination of some (but not all) deputy directors," Suzuki said in the letter.
The revelation came to light after a plane crash in late 2013 that led to the death of the state’s former Health Department director, Lorraine Fuddy. Her deputy director, Keith Yamamoto, was injured in the accident, so he couldn’t take over her position, said Anne Lopez, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office.
"As a result, there was not another line of succession," Lopez said. "So that’s actually apparently what triggered a look at what needed to happen in terms of the statute. It started with who is next in line by law, and then after studying it, the answer was, well, there’s nobody next in line. That’s what raised the issue now."
The state Senate has historically held confirmations for department directors but not for deputy directors. From now on there will be hearings for those appointees, Suzuki said in the letter.
"We did receive that advice and we’re going to follow it," said Cindy McMillan, spokeswoman for Gov. David Ige.
Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said she welcomes the opportunity for the Senate to weigh in on the appointed deputy directors.
"The only thing I’m surprised about is that no other attorney general came to that opinion in the past," Kim said.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Senate hearings for the deputy directors weren’t previously held.
"I really truly think it was just a matter of, we don’t necessarily review every single law and look at it in depth unless we’re asked to," Lopez said.
Appointments for deputy directors in the departments of Accounting and General Services; Agriculture; Budget and Finance; Business, Economic Development and Tourism; Defense; Hawaiian Home Lands; Health; Labor and Industrial Relations; Land and Natural Resources; Taxation; and Transportation will have to be confirmed by the Senate.