Gov. David Ige critical of bill that would unify travel restrictions

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Sophie Cocke, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Feb. 23—Gov. David Ige expressed reservations about a bill that would unify travel rules across Hawaii, while stopping short of saying he would veto it if it comes across his desk.

, which was introduced by House Speaker Scott Saiki and supported by the tourism industry, aims to travelers face when they are visiting the islands and trying to navigate restrictions related to the novel coronavirus. Kauai, in particular, has adopted a very different set of rules from the rest of the state.

"To assume that the same rules can apply all across the state is just not practical or workable, " Ige on Monday.

The proposed legislation has been particularly divisive on Kauai, where Mayor Derek Kawakami adopted strict rules for travelers. There has been only one death on the island from COVID-19, but some businesses and residents say the measures are too stringent and harmful to the economy.

Ige said it was difficult to address pandemic-related restrictions through legislation, given that circumstances evolve.

"It's hard to explain to people, but it is very different being an advocate for what should be done and being the authority that makes the decisions, " said Ige. "The mayors and I speak all the time, and wanting to provide passage and travel for someone vaccinated or wanting to be less restrictive on the testing is different for me and the mayors because our actions could result in someone dying if it is the wrong decision made."

Ige was noncommittal on amending Hawaii's Safe Travels program to create a "vaccination passport " that would allow travelers to skip testing and quarantine requirements. He said he was still awaiting guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is still uncertainty as to the degree that vaccinations prevent transmission, and there are challenges in verifying whether someone has been vaccinated, said Ige.

Ige also wouldn't commit to a timeline for reopening all schools to in-person learning, saying it's more difficult to provide protections in middle schools and high schools, where students change classes and teachers multiple times a day.

"It doesn't really make sense to set arbitrary deadlines on these things, " said Ige.

About half of teachers and school personnel have received coronavirus vaccinations.