A committee of Hawaii lawmakers is moving forward with a bill that would allow the Honolulu Police Commission to hire a chief from out of state and permit Micronesian immigrants to serve on state boards and commissions.

House Bill 1534 exempts the heads of county police departments from the requirement that they live in Hawaii for a year prior to their appointments.

The measure comes as the Honolulu Police Commission searches for a replacement for Louis Kealoha, who retired after being named the target of a federal investigation for corruption and abuse of power.

HPD Police Chief Louis Kealoha sign. 7 sept 2016
The Honolulu Police Commission hopes to hire a new police chief by July or August. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The bill was supported by the Police Commission. It was opposed by the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, which said in written testimony that an outsider would face a “steep learning curve of Hawaii’s culture, and also of Honolulu’s policing needs and strengths.”

HB 1534 also allows anyone who has the right to work in the U.S. to be appointed to a government position. The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission advocated for the amendment specifically to allow immigrants from Micronesia to serve on public boards and commissions.

Rep. Aaron Johanson announced that the House agreed to the Senate’s version of the proposal during a hearing at the Capitol on Thursday afternoon. The bill goes next to the full House, which is expected to vote on it next week.

More than 30 people have applied for the job of running the HPD, the 20th-largest police department in the country with about 2,000 sworn officers. About 30 percent of the candidates live outside Hawaii, according to the Police Commission.

Currently, the department is being run by Acting Chief Cary Okimoto, who took over after Kealoha left.

HPD Chief Louis Kealoha gestures during Police Commission meeting 2016. 7 sept 2016
Louis Kealoha resigned as Honolulu police chief earlier this year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Kealoha’s wife, Katherine, who is a city prosecutor, is also a considered a suspect in the case. The Kealohas have been accused of framing a family member for the theft of their mailbox so that they could gain the upper hand in a dispute over money.

Several other officers have also been implicated. One former officer already pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy after admitting to taking part in the framing.

The Police Commission is planning to appoint a new chief by July or August.

Meanwhile, Bill Hoshijo, who leads the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, told legislators in a letter that the agency advocated for HB 1534 after Gov. David Ige nominated Joakim “Jojo” Peter, a prominent community organizer, to the commission.

The Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee voted to confirm the nomination, but the governor withdrew Peter’s name after it appeared current law might bar him from serving.

Jojo Peter navigates assisting and guiding fellow Hawaii residents originally from Micronesia in signing up for the Health Connector during at drive at St. Elizabeth church in Kalihi. 7 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The proposed legislation would make Jojo Peter, left, eligible to serve on the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Peter is not a U.S. citizen but has the right to live and work in the U.S. under a treaty known as the Compact of Free Association.

Hoshijo said in a letter to legislators that the bill was “critically important” because Micronesian immigrants like Peter are currently “excluded from engagement and participation in public service and discourse.”

“Too often vilified, scapegoated, and treated as the ‘other’ among ‘us,’ these Micronesian communities are the subject of serious discussions about the ‘Compact impact’ on Hawaii,” Hoshijo wrote. “Policymakers talk about Micronesians, but not with them at the table.”

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