Sentence people who sell toy guns to minors to up to 90 days in jail. Make it a criminal trespass offense to enter public housing without a visitor’s pass. Add a felony for inflicting substantial injury upon a pregnant woman.

Legislation for each of these ideas was introduced at the 2011 Hawaii Legislature. While none passed, all remain alive for the 2012 session.

A Civil Beat analysis counted about 150 crime and punishment measures, or roughly 5 percent of all bills introduced this year. They show that some lawmakers think it’s important to be tough on crime. Many want to create new offenses and establish more and greater penalties.

But if the bills had passed, they would have further taxed an overburdened criminal justice system, something that would be at cross purposes with Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s goal of reforming the system.

The governor’s “Justice Reinvestment” plan, announced last week, seeks to cut the number of people sent to prison, lower recidivism, prevent crime and bring Hawaii prisoners home from mainland facilities.

To do that, he’s going to need the cooperation of the Legislature. Sometimes, however, it seems lawmakers are headed in the opposite direction.

What Cops, Prosecutors Want

Some of the bills at the Legislature address violent crimes.

The killing of a Family Court witness would be first degree murder. Killing a minor with torture or sexual assault could lead to a death sentence or life without parole. (Note: Hawaii does not have the death penalty.) Two other measures would lift the statute of limitations for rape cases and child abuse.

But other bills seem less substantive. For example, bills introduced in the House would make laying across a bus bench a crime of disorderly conduct, make loitering on public property a criminal trespass offense, make it a misdemeanor if parents fail to supervise their kids, penalize people for failing to render aid in serious car accidents, make it a felony to give pornographic material to minors and make bullying at home and the workplace a misdemeanor.

Other punitive measures this year came from legislative packages submitted by county prosecutors and the Honolulu Police Department.

The prosecutors sought bills that would permit involuntary psychiatric hospitalization of a sexually violent predator, establish mandatory minimum terms for some offenses committed against persons 60 years of age or older and determine that a person convicted of property theft over $100,000 may not be sentenced to probation.

HPD wanted to ban urination and defecation in public places in Waikiki and expand the offense of terroristic threatening and robbery in the first degree to include use of replica firearms.

None of these bills passed, although several made it through hearings and redrafts.

What Got Through: Prostitution and Pets

About two dozen measures related to crime did end up passing in the last session, or about 10 percent of all bills that were approved.

Most of these spell out new offenses and increase penalties, and many have already been signed into law by the governor.

Several deal with cruelty to pets and other animals, while others address prostitution and sexual conduct. Class A and B felonies for labor trafficking offenses were also established, and it’s now a class C felony to set off homemade explosives.

Just a handful of the measures, though, might be termed “reform-minded.”

They include setting up a task force to find ways to reduce the number of Native Hawaiians in prison, making criminal risk reports available to treatment service providers and placing mentally unfit petty-misdemeanor defendants under the care of the Department of Health.

Of the two dozen measures that passed, two might be vetoed by the governor.

House Bill 1155 specifies class A and B felonies that require mandatory minimum prison terms under the repeat offender statute. It also reinstates, adds and deletes some class C felonies that require mandatory minimum prison terms.

“This bill will significantly change the current policy on how the criminal justice system addresses the problem of repeat offenders that was originally enacted since 1976,” the governor explained in his press release on veto intentions.

The other possible veto is for Senate Bill 44, which requires the Department of Public Safety to track the rehabilitation and reentry of inmates into society and to report back to the Legislature on how the process is going.

The governor said SB44 “does not allow enough time or resources” for the department to accomplish that.

Most Reform Efforts Died

The introduction of lots of crime and punishment bills at the Legislature is not out of the ordinary.

“This is normal,” said state Sen. Will Espero, a Democrat who chairs the committee that deals with public safety. “Each year you have between 2,000 and 4,000 bills, but only 200 to 300 will pass. You’ve got 76 legislators, and when you add in their constituents or business or unions, they have ideas, too.”

Espero continued: “This is what the Legislature is all about. Anyone can introduce a bill, but that doesn’t mean it is going to get a hearing.”

Kat Brady, who works to promote “smart” justice policies as coordinator of Community Alliance on Prisons, agrees with Espero.

“Yes, generally, that is the landscape of the Legislature,” she said. “You get that whole landscape of bills.”

Among the 150 or crime-and-punishment bills this year, there were also about two dozen reform-minded bills that died. Many would appear to be in line with the governor’s goals for improving the justice system:

• Permit non-violent repeat drug offenders to be sent to alternative programs instead of prison.
• Establish a civil violation for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana.
• Review the impact of diverting marijuana and some felony drug offenders into treatment.
• Allow release of people serving a misdemeanor if they served at least two-thirds of a sentence.
• Establish an earned time program that provides incentives for inmate rehabilitation.
• Establish an oversight commission to foster transparency and accountability in prisons and jails.
• Prohibit transfer of inmates to the mainland with 12 months or less to serve before parole eligibility.
• Audit contracts with out-of-state prisons to see if Hawaiian inmates are being safeguarded.
• Plan, design and operation of a new minimum security facility at the existing Oahu site.
• Require multiple terms of imprisonment run concurrently unless directed to run consecutively.
• Direct the state to develop a master plan for the return of Hawaii inmates housed in mainland prisons.

Regarding that last bill, Senate Bill 1357, Espero said it died in the House.

“That is the nature of the Legislature,” said Espero, who is a co-sponsor of SB 1357. “A chair or leadership may feel strongly about something, but that’s just the way it is here.”

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