Mike McCartney, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, declined to have his staff testify today before a Hawaii Senate committee because of what he was said a “hostile” environment by lawmakers.
McCartney appeared via video before the Senate Committee on Ways and Means during an informational briefing to discuss revenues and unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I respectfully decline to have anyone else testify on behalf of DBEDT at this time,” he said. “I can’t put my staff in this position with certain members of this body.”
When committee member Sen. Glenn Wakai said he didn’t understand what McCartney was talking about, McCartney said there were “deeper issues” that need to be addressed.
“I’ve never seen this in the Senate before,” McCartney said. “I didn’t want to do this in public.”
McCartney, a former state senator, asked the Senate president to intervene.
The committee abruptly called for a break, but resumed its hearing shortly afterward.
Earlier today, the state Senate created an investigative committee with subpoena power to assist the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 with reviewing the state’s response to the pandemic. The new committee is called the Senate Special Investigating Committee on COVID-19.
“The addition of this new investigative committee will give the Senate the greatest flexibility to obtain the information it needs,” a senate news release said. “The Investigating Committee will give the Senate legal authority to mandate a response from witnesses and compel records.
“The committee may also administer oaths and report instances of contempt,” the news release said. “The subjects of the inquiries will be entitled to legal representation and will have the ability to legally challenge requests.”
The investigating committee was created by Senate Resolution 198. The Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 was formed March 18 to review the state’s response to the pandemic. Members of both committees are: Sens. Donovan Dela Cruz, Jarrett Keohokalole, Michelle N. Kidani, Donna Mercado Kim, Sharon Moriwaki, and Kurt Fevella.
Earlier in the briefing, Scott Murakami, director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said that as of Wednesday, the department received 241,000 unemployment claims and 43,600 were denied. Of the 174,000 accepted claims, about 128,600 were paid. Another 66,900 or so claims were unprocessed.
He said the state’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund contained about $399 million and was projected to be depleted by June 18.
Others presenters at the hearing included:
>> Rona Suzuki, Department of Taxation director
>> Craig Hirai, Department of Budget and Finance director
>> Eugene Tian, chief state economist
The hearing at the state Capitol was closed to the public and media due to COVID-19. No public testimony was accepted.
The meeting began shortly after 1 p.m. and ended about 4 p.m.
An archive of state legislative broadcasts can be found here.