The state Legislature’s been legislating for about a month now. There are a lot of bills still alive over there, including some that might actually do some good. Because no one has the time to go through them all and figure out what’s good, we’ve compiled a list of 10 bills that deal with criminal justice and law enforcement that we thought were important.
Some of these bills provide necessary corrections to current laws, while others would create far more problems than we already have. While this is by no means a comprehensive list, it does include a variety of bills that, for whatever reason, just aren’t getting the kind of publicity we think is needed.
RELATING TO SEXUAL ASSAULT
Because law enforcement agencies nationwide have a scandalous backlog of rape kits, this bill establishes a sexual assault kit tracking program. It requires law enforcement agencies across Hawaii to send any sexual assault kits they obtain as part of a criminal investigation to an authorized laboratory, then upload the lab results in a “timely manner.” Law enforcement agencies must also submit annual reports to the Attorney General’s office and the Legislature on the number of sexual assault kits they have and their progress on any backlog. The public will have access to these reports.
Who supports it: The Attorney General’s office, Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, Planned Parenthood of Hawaii, the American Association of University Women, Hawaii Women’s Coalition and the Joyful Heart Foundation.
Who opposes it: The Honolulu Police Department “has concerns” with the bill–mostly that it contains no provisions to increasing department hiring or funding to handle the added work.
Where it stands now: Passed the House Human Services (HUS) Committee on Feb. 17, referred to JUD Committee.
RELATING TO PUBLIC ORDER
Ugh: this bill “establishes an offense for remaining unlawfully in or upon state property after a request to leave is made by any law enforcement officer under certain conditions.”
Who supports it: The state Department of Transportation. The City and County of Honolulu “supports the intent” of the bill, though noted in testimony that “Sit-lie laws in jurisdictions that prohibit sitting and lying on public property, broadly defined, have been held unconstitutional.” Two citizens also offered testimony in support of the bill.
Who opposes it: The state Department of Land and Natural Resources says that the bill is so broad that if it passes, “sunbathing on a beach or in a park could be considered a petty misdemeanor as well as picnicking on a blanket.” The Office of Hawaiian Affairs condemned the bill, saying it “effectively criminalize the meaningful use of all public lands, and place a substantial burden on the exercise of constitutionally-recognized Native Hawaiian traditional and customary practices throughout the state.” Five citizens also testified against the bill.
Where it stands now: Referred to the House Judiciary (JUD) Committee on Feb. 18.
RELATING TO LAW ENFORCEMENT
This bill sounds rather academic, but actually has a very important purpose. It defines “the term ‘person in custody’ as used in the offense of sexual assault in the second degree and third degree to mean a person who is stopped by or under the control of a law enforcement officer for official purposes.”
Who supports it: The Sex Abuse Treatment Center in Honolulu supports it, and offered this pretty compelling reason: “[T]he current law does not cover situations where a law enforcement officer inarguably has power and control over another person, but has not effected an arrest, and therefore the other person is not technically in their ‘custody’ as that term is currently defined and interpreted in Hawaii. This was demonstrated by a recent, well-publicized local case where a Honolulu Police Department patrol officer stopped a 17 year old driver for speeding and fondled her breasts, but could not be convicted for committing the crime of sexual assault in the third degree because, although the driver was not free to leave and was within the officer’s control at the time of the sexual contact, she had not been placed under arrest.”
Who opposes it: There is no current testimony from anyone in opposition to this bill.
Where it stands now: Referred to the House JUD Committee on Feb. 17.
PROPOSING AN AMENDMENT TO ARTICLE VI OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE STATE OF HAWAII RELATING TO THE SELECTION AND RETENTION OF JUSTICES AND JUDGES
This is a very big deal. This is a constitutional amendment that would “require justices and judges be elected to serve six-year terms” (though they would still “be subject to the consent of the senate for subsequent judicial terms.” It would also repeal the Judicial Selection Commission. Ratification would take place at the general election of 2018.
Who supports it: Ho‘omano Pono, LLC and one individual offered written testimony in support of the bill.
Who opposes it: The state’s Judiciary, the Judicial Selection Commission, the state Office of the Public Defender, Hawaii State Bar Association, West Hawaii Bar Association, Kauai Bar Association, Hawaii County Bar Association, Americans for Democratic Action, Hawaii Women Lawyers, American College of Trial Lawyers, Justice At Stake, American Judicature Society, League of Women Voters, ACLU, Hawaii Government Employees Association, William Richardson Law School Dean Aviam Soifer and a host of other individuals, attorneys, retired judges and law firms.
Where it stands now: The Senate Judiciary and Labor (JDL) Committee deferred the measure until Mar. 2.
RELATING TO CRIMINAL HISTORY RECORD CHECKS
This bill authorizes “county police departments to enroll firearms applicants and individuals who are registering their firearms into a criminal record monitoring service used to alert police when an owner of a firearm is arrested for a criminal offense anywhere in the country.” If it passes, the bill “will allow county police departments in Hawaii to evaluate if the owner of a firearm may continue to legally possess and own firearms.”
Who supports it: The Honolulu PD strongly supports the measure. “Currently, a thorough background check is conducted on all applicants to acquire a firearm,” Major Richard C. Robinson of the HPD’s Records and Identification Division said in his Feb. 11 testimony on the bill. “However, once the initial background check has been completed and the permit has been issued, no further checks are conducted on the firearm owner. As a result, the county police departments have no way of knowing if a current Hawaii firearm owner has been convicted of a crime in another state that would prohibit him or her from owning a firearm.”
Who opposes it: The National Rifle Association, of course. “The NRA opposes this measure because it expands upon the existing registration requirements to implement a federal biometric registry of Hawaii gun owners,” Daniel Reid of the NRA emailed the House PBS Committee on Feb. 10. “Positive hits in this system have not necessarily been adjudicated and could cause issues with the an [sic] individual’s ability to exercise their constitutional rights.” Four other individuals also submitted testimony against the bill.
Where it stands now: Referred to the House JUD Committee on Feb. 17.
RELATING TO FORFEITURE
Civil asset forfeiture–when police can seize a person’s assets and property before that person is even convicted of a crime–is horrible public policy. It’s legalized theft; an abomination that turns police departments into mercenary outfits. It should be gotten rid of, but this bill does far less: it calls on the Attorney General to “establish a working group” that would review the state’s asset forfeiture laws and make recommendations to improve them.
Who supports it: The Attorney General’s office, the Maui County Prosecutor’s office, the Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney and the Honolulu PD all love it–probably because it only calls for a toothless commission that everyone will forget about 15 minutes after it convenes.
Who opposes it: The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii despises this bill. “This working group is unnecessary for one simple reason: the civil asset forfeiture tool is in and of itself wrong,” stated the organization’s Feb. 11 testimony. “We do not need a working group to determine what we already know is unjust: seizing a person’s assets and property without any related conviction, turning the burden of proof onto that property owner to prove that the property is innocent, and lastly, funneling these assets into the coffers of the arresting agency, the prosecutors and the Attorney General.”
Where it stands now: The Senate JDL and Ways and Means (WAM) Committees held a public decision making on Feb. 24 (at press time).
RELATING TO POLICE
This bill “requires police commissions to ensure that all full-time police officers receive crisis intervention training related to interaction with persons with mental disabilities,” according to the state Legislature’s website. It “requires police commissions to establish policies for officer interaction with persons with mental disabilities and homeless persons.”
Who supports it: The state Department of Health likes it. Louis Erteschik of the Hawaii Disability Rights Center didn’t testify for or against the measure, but did note that “We have been aware of several instances where police may have overreacted to encounters with individuals who suffer from mental illness and that in some cases a deadly result ensued.” He also testified that “We believe very much that establishing a training program with clear protocols on how to de-escalate situations would be very useful and we would very much support that.” Four other individuals and researchers testified in favor of the bill.
Who opposes it: There is no stated opposition to the bill.
Where it stands now: Referred to the Senate WAM Committee on Feb. 17.
RELATING TO FIREARMS
Right now, each county in Hawaii has its own firearms registration information, according to a PSM Committee report on the bill. If it passes, this measure would create an “active mechanism” to share this firearm registration info across the state. This system would “enable law enforcement agencies to access critical information more quickly when they are checking on individuals involved in an incident to which they are responding,” according to the committee report. It seems clear-cut, but law enforcement organizations are split on whether it’s a good thing.
Who supports it: The state Attorney General, the Hawaii Rifle Association and three individuals all testified in favor of it. “The development and implementation of this capability will enable law enforcement agencies to query firearm information more timely when checking on individuals involved in any incident to which they are responding, traffic stops they are making, or warrants they are serving,” the AG testified on Feb. 11. “It will not only enhance officer safety, but public safety, in general.”
Who opposes it: The Maui County Prosecutor’s office.“The proposed bill dilutes the privacy protection that the current statute affords by permitting disclosure for mere “database management” by the Hawaii criminal justice data center,” Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Peter Hanano testified on Feb. 11. “Further, the bill does not specify what the term ‘database management’ encompasses.” A further seven individuals also testified against it.
Where it stands now: Referred to Senate JDL Committee on Feb. 18.
RELATING TO LAW ENFORCEMENT CAMERAS
After experimenting with body cameras during a small-scale test last year, the Maui Police Department is now apparently going forward equipping their officers with body cameras and recently put out a request for proposals to camera vendors, according to the Feb. 18 Maui News. This bill sets out requirements for county police departments concerning body-worn cameras and vehicle cameras. It also appropriates funds to each county for the purchase of these body and vehicle cameras–if the counties are willing to match them dollar-for-dollar.
Who supports it: The ACLU likes the bill, but wants special privacy protections made explicit. A UH Manoa doctoral researcher testified that the bill is a good way to increase the accountability of law enforcement officers. The Office of Information Practices (OIP) supports the intent of the bill, but notes that it anticipates a “high volume” of requests from the public to see police body camera footage, and says it will need additional staffing and funding to handle those requests, which will likely be on a case-by-case basis.
Who opposes it: Why, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO), of course. The powerful police union insists that it–and the county’s four police chiefs–can draft suitable regulations without legislative interference. “The four county police chiefs understand the demands of police work and the standards required,” SHOPO President Tenari Maafala testified on Feb. 5. “Therefore they are best qualified to draft their body camera policies in conjunction with SHOPO.” The Kauai Police Department, which is already deploying body cameras (over the objections of SHOPO), also opposes the bill because its stipulation that officers can’t turn on their cameras for “non-law enforcement purposes” is vague and questionable.
Where it stands now: The Senate JDL and WAM Committees held a public decision making on Feb. 24 (at press time).
RELATING TO THE UNIFORM INFORMATION PRACTICES ACT
This is yet another bill that seeks to end the “confidentiality protection afforded under the Uniform Information Practices Act for certain information regarding misconduct of police officers that results in suspension.” This special exemption has been in effect since the mid-1990s, and exists for no other class of public employee. This bill would bring about much-needed accountability to law enforcement that’s long overdue.
Who supports it: The state Department of Human Resources, OIP, Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest. Eleven individuals also submitted written testimony in favor of the bill.
Who opposes it: SHOPO, which makes sense given that they got the Legislature to pass the exemption in the first place.
Where it stands now: Referred to the Senate JDL Committee on Feb. 11.
Cover design: Darris Hurst