Los Angeles Assembly Members Defend Maui Trip During COVID Pandemic

The Fairmont Kea Lani resort in Maui is hosting a conference being attended by some California state legislators. (Screengrab from the hotel's website)

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COVID numbers are booming in California and the Governor has issued a travel advisory asking people to avoid non-essential trips.

But at least eight state lawmakers, including two Los Angeles-area Assembly members, ignored the official advice, jetting off to Hawaii this week for a conference studded with lobbyists.

State Assembly members Blanca Rubio and Wendy Carrillo are defending their decision to attend the annual Independent Voter Project "Business and Leadership Conference" at the Fairmont Kea Lani on Maui.

In an emailed statement, Carrillo — who is a member of the Assembly Health Committee — said: "For those that are confused or angry as to why I'm here, I can assure you that I took great precaution and thought regarding my attendance. I was informed that IVP is the first conference allowed and is being seen as a test as to what is possible. This helped inform my decision on what could be possible for California."

In her statement, Rubio called it "a critical conference focused on reopening the economy." Both Rubio and Carrillo emphasized that taxpayer money was not involved in paying for the event.

However, the Independent Voter Project covered many elected officials' airfare and five-night luxury resort stay as part of the deal. Assembly member Frank Bigelow, a Republican whose district includes Placerville and Madera, told the L.A. Times he is covering his own expenses.

"[A]ll COVID-19 travel protocols were closely followed, including testing negative for the virus within 72 hours of arrival, mask wearing and physical distancing," Rubio said in her statement. "We will continue to follow all health advisories as we help Californians and our constituents get back to work safely."

In an email, Carrillo emphasized the state of Hawaii's new safety requirements for travelers, such as issuing tourists a QR code to help monitor their trip and prove negative COVID test results.

"Several of these standards can be and should be replicated in California and could help reopen revenue-making venues like hotels for conferences and amusement parks and stadiums, putting thousands of people back to work and boosting our economy," Carrillo added.

According to the organizer's website, "The purpose of the conference is to provide a setting, away from the Capitol, for elected officials and a diverse group of industry experts to consider policy matters in a nonpartisan manner." In an average year, attendees include "business leaders from a wide range of industries including healthcare, public safety, bio-technology, energy, and more..."

The opportunity for mingling over mai tais between interest groups and elected officials has drawn scrutiny to the Independent Voter Project's annual Hawaii trip. Many critics say it's a place for lobbyists to hobnob with politicians out of the public eye. We don't have a full list of who's attending the 2020 conference, but they include members of the private sector and an unidentified public employee union.

Carrillo added: "If any of this created any mixed messages or caused confusion, let me apologize."