Establishment of a law enforcement standards board is a priority for female lawmakers at the Hawaii Legislature this year.

Another is that county police commissions have members experienced in women’s issues and civil rights.

The 2016 Women’s Legislative Caucus package also targets domestic violence and sex trafficking.

The legislation was unveiled Thursday at the YWCA on Richards Street in downtown Honolulu. The bipartisan caucus is comprised of 14 state representatives and eight state senators — about 30 percent of the Hawaii Legislature.

The standards board and police commission bills are similar to legislation that was introduced in 2015 following well-publicized incidents of demonstrated and alleged police misconduct, but ultimately failed to gain traction.

Rep. Della Au Belatti leads a panel discussion of the Women's Caucus Thursday at the YWCA on Richards Street.
Rep. Della Au Belatti leads a panel discussion of the Women’s Legislative Caucus on Thursday at the YWCA on Richards Street. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Rep. Della Au Belatti, an attorney and chair of the House Committee on Health, said legislators had made a lot of progress during the interim between sessions to strengthen the chances for the survival of the bills.

Belatti cited greater collaboration with the counties and the state Judiciary, and the push for more data on domestic-violence fatalities, near-deaths and suicides.

She described the approach as a “tag team” effort, one that recognizes that funding for police departments comes at the county level, and that some issues might be better addressed judicially rather than legislatively.

Rep. Linda Ichiyama and Sens. Jill Tokuda and Roz Baker.
From left, Rep. Linda Ichiyama and Sens. Jill Tokuda and Roz Baker. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The fact that police misconduct or allegations of misconduct have made so many headlines lately is helping to drive the legislation.

The standards board bills — House Bill 1903 and Senate Bill 2325 — identify three of those incidents:

  • Former Honolulu police officer Vincent Morre, who was sentenced to prison for using unreasonable force to violate the civil rights of two men;
  • Honolulu Sgt. Darren Cachola, who was caught on video in public engaged in a violent physical fight with his girlfriend; and
  • The FBI’s criminal investigation of Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha for alleged abuse of power.

The measures explain that the Legislature finds “the consequences of a lack of statewide oversight of police are a matter of serious public concern” and that “greater oversight” is needed.

The bills would establish a law enforcement standards board for the certification of county officers, state public safety officers and employees of the departments of Transportation and Land and Natural Resources who have police powers.

Hawaii is the only state without a statewide standards and training board, and one of only a handful that doesn’t license its officers.

The police commission bills — HB 1904 and SB 2324 — also directly reference the video of Cachola and his girlfriend.

The Women's Caucus honored past legislators Barbara Marumoto, Jackie Young and Annette Amaral.
The Women’s Caucus honored past legislators, from left, Barbara Marumoto, Jackie Young and Annette Amaral. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“The sergeant’s actions sparked concern about the way police handle domestic violence cases,” the bills state. “The Legislature additionally finds that residents in the State should be able to know that the county police departments are being held accountable for the actions of county police officers. Currently, the county police commissions are charged with overseeing conduct of the county police departments or officers.”

Each of the bills includes several male co-sponsors.

Other proposed legislation from the Women’s Caucus focuses on violence against women. They include:

  • HB 1900 and SB 2318 address confidentiality programs, domestic violence, sexual offenses and stalking. The bills would develop “a mechanism” to keep addresses confidential for domestic-violence and sex-assault survivors.
  • HB1901 and SB2321 call for domestic violence intervention training for first responders. The bills require any state or county agency that employs personnel whose job duties require or may require intervention in a domestic violence situation to take a minimum 15 hours of domestic violence intervention training.
  • HB 1902 and SB 2322 replace the offense of promoting prostitution in the first degree with sex trafficking, and classify it as a violent crime. The witness protection program would be expanded and victims would have access to compensation.

A related bill, one not coming from the Women’s Caucus but having the support of male and female legislators, proposes a constitutional amendment ballot question “to guarantee rights to victims of crimes and their surviving family members.”

Senate Bill 3034 notes that Hawaii is one of only 18 states that does not have a version of what’s known as a Marsy’s Law — the California Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008. The law is named for Marsy Nicholas, a senior at the University of California at Santa Barbara who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend.

Among other things, SB 3034 says that victims should be provided timely notification of plea or sentencing proceedings of the accused.

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