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Hawaii legislators to meet Tuesday to consider veto overrides

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All members of the state House and Senate have been summoned to meet at noon Tuesday to consider overriding or amending any number of 28 bills that Gov. David Ige plans to veto, but exactly which bills remains uncertain.

At least one measure — a proposed veto by Ige related to the state budget — will be considered, state Sen. President Ron Kouchi told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

On May 1, the day after the Legislature adjourned, the U.S. Treasury said that COVID-19 related American Rescue Plan Act funds cannot be used for debt service.

So Ige has said that he needs to veto the debt service plan — as well as other bills — in order to comply with federal funding rules that were not in place during the legislative session that ended with lawmakers sending more than 200 bills to Ige’s desk.

“We have directed them (House and Senate members) to be present for session because we need at a minimum to fix the bond debt bill,” Kouchi said. “It is not a special session. A special session would have required two-thirds of each legislative body to agree to it, or the governor would have had to call us in. We are coming in for veto override purposes, so it’s limited to that only. … We are not entering a special session at this time.”

Legislators had to make critical decisions coming out of the country’s pandemic economy. During the legislative session, federal funding rules also remained unclear.

Then after the session, as Hawaii’s tourism-driven economy rebounded, the economic forecast improved.

“Our economic shortfall wasn’t as bad,” Kouchi said. “If that information was made to us, we would have made different decisions.”

He and House Speaker Scott Saiki said they have asked Ige to tell them by Friday exactly which bills he intends to veto so they can decide how to proceed.

Depending on the bills that Ige vetoes, legislators could choose not to override them, to override them or to suggest changes to Ige that both the House and Senate would have to agree to.

The length of the veto override discussions will depend on how legislators proceed.

They could meet only on Tuesday or possibly over multiple days, Kouchi said.

“If the House and Senate agree to a proposed fix,” Kouchi said, “they would have to lay it on the table for 48 hours.”

Any bills that Ige does not veto by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday become law with or without his signature.

It’s the largest number of bills that Ige has signaled his intentions to veto, according to his office. The previous record high was 20 bills in 2019.

“Normally it’s five to 10,” Kouchi said.

The record number of potential vetoes under Ige is largely the result of uncertainty over how much federal support Hawaii was going to receive amid the economic and health devastation from COVID-19 — and how that funding could be used.

In announcing his intent-to-veto list, Ige said guidance from the U.S. Treasury announced the day after the legislative session adjourned made it clear that federal rescue funds cannot be used for debt service — so he needed to veto some bills to comply.

They include:

>> House Bill 200, which would use federal funds for general obligation bond debt service and other programs that provide matching funds for federal dollars.

>> House Bill 54, which would include federal stimulus funds to replenish the state’s rainy day fund, which Ige said would violate federal guidelines.

>> House Bill 613, which would use federal money to pay bonuses to teachers, another violation of federal rules, Ige said.

>> House Bill 62, which would significantly change how the Hawaii Tourism Authority is funded and paves the way for increases in each county’s Tourism Accommodations Tax rates.

Ige has repeatedly said that HTA is the best organization to manage Hawaii’s resurgent tourism industry, being met with community complaints and concerns.

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