The Hawaii Senate passed two bills to toughen gun laws Tuesday, sending the measures to the House of Representatives for further consideration despite opposition from gun rights activists.

Senate bills 2436 and 2046 were among 371 measures the Senate passed on to the House on Tuesday, ahead of Thursday’s deadline for sending bills to the opposite chamber for further hearings and possible amendments before they can be sent to the governor.

The bills sent to the House covered a range of topics, including management of Mauna Kea, environmental concerns about sunscreen and Styrofoam, financial disclosure requirements for public board members and qualifications for police officers.

Senate opposition floor vote during floor session at the Capitol.
State senators approved 371 measures Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The gun bills were among the more rigorously debated measures, coming just weeks after the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at a Florida high School.

SB 2436 would shorten from 30 days to seven a deadline for surrendering weapons to authorities when a person is disqualified from owning a gun. SB 2046 would ban modified triggers that allow semiautomatic guns to essentially function as automatic weapons, shooting bursts of bullets with the pull and release of the trigger.

The bills were supported by gun control advocates such as Everytown for Gun Safety and opposed by the National Rifle Association.

Hawaii already has one of the lowest firearm death rates in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a point that wasn’t lost on advocates for stricter gun laws.

“Across the state, it is illegal for certain people with dangerous histories, including convicted felons and domestic abusers, to buy or possess guns,” according to written testimony from Everytown for Gun Safety. “But this law contains a dangerous loophole that can have tragic consequences, especially in situations of domestic violence.”

The issue is that, under the current law, people who become prohibited from owning guns, like domestic abusers, can still keep them for up to a month, the organization testified. The bill would shorten that to a week.

While several senators spoke from the floor on Tuesday to say they wished the bill imposed an even tighter deadline, gun ownership advocates had testified against previous bills that imposed tighter deadlines, including one that gave people 24 hours to relinquish a gun they were no longer legally allowed to own.

HRA Gun Koko Head Range Shooting Sports Fair shotgun. 19 june 2016
A shooter takes aim during a Hawaii Rifle Association event. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“This expedited time period could subject an individual, who may have nothing more than allegations as the basis for the prohibition, to an unfettered search of their home and/or business within hours of being accused,” the NRA testified in writing. “All this without taking into account the many issues surrounding ‘surrender statutes’ in general, including possible violations of an individual’s right against self-incrimination.”

While proponents of the bill to ban “multi-burst triggers” lauded the measure as reasonable to protect public safety, others called it a serious overreach that would wrongly burden law-abiding citizens, including the disabled.

“The broad and overreaching provisions of SB 2046 could criminalize firearm modifications such as competition triggers, muzzle brakes, and ergonomic changes that are commonly done by law-abiding gun owners to make their firearms more suitable for self-defense, competition, hunting, or even overcoming disability,” testified Brett Kulbis, chairman of the Honolulu County Republican Party.

Both gun bills were approved unanimously in the all-Democrat Senate.

Also passing out of the Senate were measures to ban Styrofoam containers for takeout plate lunches and other food and sunscreen containing oxybenzone.

A law enforcement reform bill headed to the House, meanwhile, would prevent the state or counties from hiring police officers terminated due to misconduct.

Two approved bills deal with financial disclosures for members of government boards and commissions. SB 2609 would remove a requirement that unpaid board members must publicly disclose certain financial information. A separate bill would reduce the maximum penalty for unpaid board and commission members who do not file their disclosures on time.

House Passes 128 Bills

The House passed 128 bills Tuesday on topics including medical aid in dying, removing abandoned vehicles, drinking booze in the ocean and feral cats.

“When we began this legislative session, the House of Representatives took the position that we would prioritize critical, unfinished business. This included medical aid in dying and homelessness and housing initiatives,” House Speaker Scott Saiki said in a statement. “House members have taken tough positions on complicated issues because they, like the general public, do not want to defer decisions on some of the most important issues facing our state.”

The vast majority of the bills were passed with little or no debate.

Speaker Scott Saiki gavels in during House floor session at the Capitol.
Speaker Scott Saiki gavels in the House floor session Tuesdayl. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A bill to ban liquor consumption by “bathers” within 1,000 yards of the shoreline was among the few to prompt comments from lawmakers. Bathers are defined as “any person floating, swimming, wading, or bodysurfing, with or without the use of a flotation device.”

“I like to drink beer in the ocean. I think a lot of people like to drink beer in the ocean,” said Rep. Sean Quinlan. “This bill is an overreaction.”

House Bill 2617, which passed 47-4, was spurred by the Waikiki flotilla events that draw hundreds of people into the ocean to drink on inflatable rafts. Last year at the annual Independence Day flotilla, emergency personnel brought a woman to shore unconscious and had to help several others back to the beach.

Rep. Jarrett Keohokalole said the measure is about saving lives. He said the state similarly cracked down when large gatherings of boaters at the Kaneohe sandbar got out of control and presented safety concerns.

There was also some debate on a bill addressing the conundrum that the state and oceanfront homeowners face due to erosion and sea level rise. Private land becomes public when it falls under the highest wash of the waves, something the Hawaii Attorney General’s office reaffirmed in a recent opinion.

Law enforcement officials estimated 1,000 people took part in the July 4 flotilla off the coast of Waikiki. Courtesy: DLNR

But when that happens, the state charges the owner for an easement to access their own home or other structure that now sits on state land. Under the current law, the land board has to charge fair market value, which could mean $50,000 for a 55-year lease for a 500-square-foot easement.

House Bill 2653, which passed 49-2, would give the state land board more discretion by offering short-term easements at a cost determined by the board to let these landowners consider alternatives to ultimately relocate their structures.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen said she was concerned the bill was not prescriptive enough.

“We’re saying to existing landowners that you’ve got 35 years and all you have to do is consider it,” she said. “We need to do better.”

Rep. Matt LoPresti said he too was in favor but had concerns about the bill not clearly banning seawalls, which may protect an individual property but ultimately wreck the coastline and beaches on either side of it.

“We’ll end up losing our beaches to wealthy people,” he said.

A bill to manage feral cat colonies was debated by House lawmakers before it passed. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

The debate over feral cats drew more opposition than almost any other bill that was heard Tuesday.

House Bill 2593, which passed 40-11 with eight “yes” votes coming with “reservations,” would require an unspecified state agency to contract with a nonprofit animal rescue group to oversee caretakers of feral cats. It also exempts registered caretakers of feral cats from related state laws and county ordinances and establishes a trap-sterilize-return policy.

The supporters were mostly silent on the issue, which has strong support from the Humane Society.

Rep. Nadine Nakamura, whose Kauai district includes two wildlife refuges for endangered native species, said feral cats are killing hundreds of endemic birds and the colonies maintained by volunteer feeders need to be addressed.

She said a statewide trap-neuter-return policy fails to consider sensitive areas and the bill would have “dire consequences.”

Rep Matt LoPresti speaks about anti flotilla/drinking on the ocean bill leading up the the aid in death bill.
Rep. Matt LoPresti called the feral cat bill “horrible,” explaining the need for people to set aside their emotional attachment to kittens in order to determine the best state policy. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

She noted how Kauai has spent millions of dollars retrofitting lights and taking other action to comply with federal and state laws to protect endangered species, such as certain shearwaters and petrels.

“This is a difficult and complex discussion that will require professional facilitation,” Nakamura said, recommending pulling all the stakeholders together to address the problem.

LoPresti seconded Nakamura. He also highlighted how People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which he called a “radical organization” that at times puts animal lives ahead of humans, has come out against trap-neuter-release policies as ineffective and inhumane.

“We need to check our own emotions on how much we like kitty cats and set those aside,” he said. “This is a horrible bill.”

Rep. Ryan Yamane said the request for the measure came from nonprofits who want to address the broken system of dealing with feral cats.

He said trap-neuter-release policies are not always ineffective; it depends on how the program is implemented. He cited Disneyland and Stanford University, as well as Manoa and Diamond Head, as places where free-roaming cat colonies have been effectively managed.

“We are trying to address a problem that has been plaguing our state and city parks for decades,” Yamane said.

See the full list of bills the House took up Tuesday.

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