CA lawmakers attend Hawaii policy conference during COVID-19

COVID-19 has squashed most holiday and vacation plans this year amid travel restrictions and quarantine recommendations to slow the spread of the virus.

Yet some California lawmakers have traveled to Maui this week for the California Independent Voter Project’s annual policy conference.

A San Diego-based group that works to empower “nonpartisan voters and promote nonpartisan election reform through initiatives,” the project’s summit has historically offered a chance for lawmakers, lobbyists and industry representatives to rub elbows over cocktails while discussing policy under the Hawaiian sun.

Amid a surge in new coronavirus cases that’s skyrocketed California’s positivity rate to 5% over seven days, the state on Monday issued another firm warning against non-essential and out-of-state traveling.

The Department of Public Health has also recommended anyone traveling into California from another part of the country or internationally to quarantine for two weeks. Hawaii requires travelers to either isolate for 14 days upon entrance into the state, or prove they’ve had a negative COVID-19 test result within the last 72 hours.

Dan Howle, chairman and executive director for the Independent Voter Project, said about 50 participants are in Hawaii this week, a third of its normal size, including fewer than 20 legislators from multiple states. Howle declined to say how many California lawmakers are in attendance, but said both Democrats and Republicans are participating in the four-day conference that started Monday.

Howle said the organization has been working for months with the hotel, which hosts the summit each year, to make sure the event was as safe as possible and in accordance with Hawaii’s stringent COVID-19 guidelines. Attendees are wearing masks, adhering to food and drink regulations and physically distancing from others.

A worker for Fairmont Kea Lani, the southwest coast resort with rates into the hundreds of dollars that’s hosting the summit, confirmed that participants had to show proof of a negative test result before they attended any events or wandered through the hotel. Anyone who did not have the test results available yet was required to quarantine.

According to the resort’s website, all guests are required to wear face coverings while in public spaces and asked to maintain social distancing. Temperature checks “may also be required.”

“Nobody has been walking around without masks. They’re not complaining about it,” Howle said. “Of course, they’re in Maui.”

Participants are also being encouraged, Howle said, to quarantine when they return back home, and to get tested for COVID-19 five days later.

“If it does not come back negative, notify us so we can notify the hotel, the airlines and everyone in that stream,” he said.

The Hawaii trip follows on the heels of backlash over Gov. Gavin Newsom attending a friend and political adviser’s 50th birthday party at a Napa County restaurant called French Laundry, known for its expensive meals.

Newsom apologized following the San Francisco Chronicle’s report of the Nov. 6 party, and reiterated his regret Monday during a press conference.

“I made a bad mistake,” Newsom said. “The spirit of what I’m preaching all the time was contradictory, and I’ve got to own that, so I’m going to apologize to you.”

Faced with questions on the public policy benefit of a trip to Hawaii for a four-day event amid the nation’s worst COVID-19 surge, Howle also said participants are learning about how to reopen the economy safely, especially within the hotel and services sector.

“There’s a lot of different ideas about how we can get people’s businesses (open), about starting the process of bringing people back to some semblance of normal,” Howle said. “And because we have this long relationship with the hotel we agreed, let’s give this a try.”

Hannah Wiley joined The Sacramento Bee as a state politics reporter in 2019 to cover the California Capitol. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis and Northwestern Universities.

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