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By stating what might be vetoed, Gov. David Ige made clear on Monday what won’t be vetoed.
Several important bills to improve our elections and criminal justice system made the cut, as well as measures that comport with Hawaii’s image as a compassionate, progressive-minded state.
But the governor should re-think his rationale for possibly vetoing bills to establish an industrial hemp licensing program, to set up a medical release program for very sick inmates and to prohibit civil asset forfeiture unless a felony conviction of property owners is involved.
Fortunately, the Hawaii Constitution gives Ige until July 9 to change his mind.
We welcome all mail-in voting statewide by next year and automatic recounts of close elections, the creation of a Hawaii Correctional System Oversight Commission and allowance for unsecured bail, and the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana and the rejection of privatizing Manele Small Boat Harbor on Lanai.
While Ige said he may still veto a bill allowing for defendants to make daily payments on bail as they are released from custody, he correctly pointed out that bail reform measures are already part of House Bill 1552, the prison oversight legislation. A separate bill on allowing unsecured bail gives courts greater flexibility in considering a defendant’s financial ability, character and reputation, and flight risk.
A major goal of bail reform is to reduce overcrowding in jails. That is also one of the goals of the decriminalization bill, which allows for adult possession of up to three grams of pot and the expungement of past records.
The potential veto of the Manele boat harbor bill showed the governor listened to Lanai constituents who say they were blindsided by the plan. Ige properly recognized the measure could not proceed without public input.
These good bills will also become law: expanding gender categories on Hawaii driver’s licenses by adding a Gender X option, banning gay and transgender panic as a defense for murder charges, and preventing people from accessing firearms when they pose a danger.
Now, about those possible vetos.
We have no quibble with Ige rejecting Senate Bill 1292 requiring short-term-rental hosting platforms to serve as tax collectors for the state. There is a reason that everyone including the governor called this the Airbnb bill: because it would help companies like it while doing nothing to regulate an industry that by wide acclaim has grown out of control.
The governor is also expected to veto Senate Bill 301 that proposes a corporate tax on real estate investment trusts. Ige said he was worried passage of the legislation would make businesses less likely to invest in Hawaii.
And Ige is expected to veto a bill that would increase the cap for tax credits for the film industry from $35 million a year to $50 million a year. While the governor did not like how the bill required the University of Hawaii to lease some campus lands to a state agency, an even more compelling reason — one not cited by Ige — is that it seems the tax credits actually result in a net fiscal loss for the state.
There are three bills the governor should take a closer look at before killing them.
House Bill 748 limiting civil asset forfeiture — that is, the taking of property by law enforcement even when someone has not been charged or convicted of a crime — is “government-sponsored theft,” as the bill states. “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
For good reason HB 748 passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously. Ige should not listen to the police departments and county prosecutors who want to keep stealing people’s stuff.
Senate Bill 1353 sets up a permanent industrial hemp licensing program within the state Department of Agriculture. Again, no lawmaker opposed the bill, yet Ige has concerns about enforcement.
In fact, a federal farm bill passed last year legalized hemp by taking it off the Controlled Substances Act (hemp won’t get you stoned) and made it an agricultural crop — and a potentially lucrative one at that. The governor should let this bill go without his signature and look to fix any problems he foresees in the next legislative session.
Lastly, Ige ought to allow House Bill 629 to become law. It would upgrade a medical release program within the Department of Public Safety for very sick, disabled or impaired inmates who pose a low risk to public safety. HB 629 was also passed unopposed by lawmakers.
Ige points out that such a program already exists in DPS and the Hawaii Paroling Authority. But DPS itself testified in support of the bill, saying it codified the ongoing program that was set up in 2014. The paroling authority also indicated its support for the bill because it broadens the criteria to consider for inmate release.
DPS asked for $2.1 million to pay for staffing to aid in inmate health evaluations. The Legislature did not provide the money, as Ige notes.
Solution: Since the bill will not go into effect until March 1, 2020, lawmakers can appropriate the necessary funding next session and send an expedited bill to Ige’s desk.
Click here to contact the governor’s office.
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair and Jessica Terrell. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at email@example.com.