California lawmakers travel to Hawaii amid COVID-19 travel warnings

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Lawmakers from California and other states are gathering for an annual conference in Maui this week despite an increase in COVID-19 cases in the Golden State that has resulted in travel warnings by health officials.More than half a dozen California lawmakers are among 50 people attending a political conference sponsored by the Independent Voter Project, a nonprofit group, at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea, with travel expenses of some legislators supported by hosts. The four-day conference, in which panels discuss a variety of issues, including how to safely reopen states amid COVID-19, began on Monday.

The annual rally, which has seen as many as 25 California lawmakers in attendance in recent years, has come under criticism as it is partly funded and attended by special interests, including businesses and labor groups, who are lobbying on lawmakers.

This year, lawmakers are drawing criticism for their decision to attend the event during the COVID-19 pandemic and as coronavirus cases increase across the country.

The conference began the same day California public officials brought many counties back to the purple reopening level, reimplementing the state’s toughest restrictions on public gatherings and business operations to stem the transmission of the virus. .

“We now see a widespread community throughout the state of California,” Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday.

Newsom on Friday urged Californians not to travel out of state and to self-quarantine if they do.

Dan Howle, chairman of the Independent Voter Project, declined on Monday to identify members of the legislature attending the four-day event or reveal the number of flights scheduled to Hawaii, saying only that “several members came from several states. ”Including California.

“IVP decided to go ahead based on the Hawaii Safe Travel program and the hotel’s agreement to provide adequate social spacing for seats at all meetings,” Howle said in an e- mail. “Based on this [program] and from conversations with the hotel regarding guest safety, we decided we could organize a safe and secure event.

As part of Hawaii’s Safe Travel Program, implemented Oct. 15, conference attendees are required to provide Hawaii government health officials and the hotel with proof of a negative coronavirus test performed less than 72 hours after arriving in Hawaii, Howle said.

He said masks and social distancing are necessary at all meetings and events, and the conference has received Maui County approval required for meetings of more than 12 people.

The identity of annual conference attendees is always a touchy subject, with lawmakers often refusing to confirm attendance until they have to report travel expenses months later.

The decision by lawmakers to leave the state for the conference drew criticism from Jon Coupal, chairman of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.

“It’s ‘do what I say, not what I do,’” Coupal said. “This is one of the reasons there is a complete disconnect between ordinary California citizens and political leaders.”

Representatives for some lawmakers confirmed on Monday that the lawmakers they work for were not in attendance, but others did not respond to a request for comment from The Times.

The annual conference has in the past included panel discussions on issues such as prisons, biofuels, pollution and transportation, and this year, attendees are reflecting on ways to safely reopen state economies amid the crisis. pandemic.

Last year, lawmakers said they received about $ 3,500 each from the event organizers for participation fees.

State ethics laws allow lawmakers to have groups covered for travel expenses if they are speakers at out-of-state events.

The continuing threat of COVID-19 has been an issue for the California Legislature, where outbreaks among members forced part of this year’s session to be canceled and led to action, including voting remotely from district offices.

At least three California state lawmakers have tested positive in recent months, while others have had to self-quarantine after coming into contact with people infected with the virus.

Newsom is also being criticized for recently attending a birthday party at a Napa Valley restaurant with people from other households. The governor apologized on Monday, saying his behavior was at odds with the spirit of state security guidelines.

He said he was considering whether to issue a statewide curfew as public health experts urged to cut travel.

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