The fatal shooting Sunday of two Honolulu police officers hung over the Capitol as Gov. David Ige delivered his sixth annual State of the State speech to members of the Legislature Tuesday morning.
Leaders in the House and Senate indicated they may move to close loopholes in Hawaii’s gun laws, which are already among the nation’s strictest.
Ige said he would support those proposals but noted they must be done in conjunction with more support for police and mental health services.
“If you asked, they would tell you they are just doing their job, even when they step in harm’s way,” Ige said of Hawaii’s first responders. “In truth, they do so much more. Especially when the need arises.”
Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard received a standing ovation when introduced in the House, and Ige asked for a moment of silence to remember HPD officers Tiffany Enriquez and Kaulike Kalama, who were fatally shot while responding to a 911 call in a Diamond Head neighborhood.
The House and Senate Judiciary Committee chairs were already looking at measures to close certain gun loopholes. But Sunday’s deadly incident may have spurred broader support for those bills among members of the Legislature.
However, Ige said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon that no amount of gun control may have stopped what happened Sunday, when a 69-year-old man allegedly stabbed his neighbor before shooting the two police officers and setting his landlady’s home ablaze.
His speech came as police used cadaver dogs to find human remains in the burned out home on Hibiscus Drive.
Ige said police departments must be supported in recruiting efforts, and noted that access to mental health and substance abuse services in the state should be expanded.
The House may consider a measure that bans borrowing a firearm if the borrower does not have a permit to legally own one. Rep. Chris Lee, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, noted that the state should collect more data on illegal guns in Hawaii and how they move through the black market.
Lawmakers also have plans to expand bed space at the state hospital for civil commitments — or those who are admitted for treatment against their will.
The current space is taken up by people awaiting criminal trials, Rep. Sylvia Luke, the House Finance Committee chair, said in a press conference.
Senate President Ron Kouchi said lawmakers have been trying to restore funding for mental health services across the state that took a hit after the economic downturn from 2007 to 2009.
Sen. Clarence Nishihara, who chairs the Senate Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee, said he asked Ballard Tuesday morning for any proposals HPD might have to help with situations like those that police faced Sunday.
He noted that earlier this year, Hawaii enacted a “red flag law,” which tries to prevent people who pose a threat to the public from accessing firearms.
What About Native Hawaiians?
Much of the governor’s address focused on a joint legislative package, which he and lawmakers announced last week, that seeks to improve Hawaii’s affordability with a slight minimum wage increase, tax breaks for the working class, affordable housing developments and access to childcare and pre-school.
He dedicated part of his speech to addressing the standoff on Mauna Kea over the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
Ige said he had been under pressure to use law enforcement to break the protests that resumed in July. He said that could have been the easy way out, but not the best way.
“What is also at risk is the glue that has always bound us together: our sense of aloha. It is the thing that underpins our laws and gives them meaning and an ethical foundation,” Ige said.
The Legislature still appears light on proposals that could address any of the concerns that protesters in 2019 have raised over land, environmental and societal issues.
Vice Speaker Mark Nakashima, whose Big Island district includes Mauna Kea, said concerns should be addressed in the Legislature, not Mauna Kea. He said there could be a number of bills to address issues but gave no details. Lawmakers have until Thursday to introduce new legislation.
“I think they picked the wrong venue,” he said of the protesters on Mauna Kea.
In contrast, Ige said he doesn’t think issues over Mauna Kea should be resolved in the Legislature.
Meanwhile, Senate President Ron Kochi and House Speaker Scott Saiki said they are waiting on the governor to come forward with proposals.
House leaders are also looking to Big Island Mayor Harry Kim for more details or proposals on how exactly he wants to move forward on Mauna Kea.
Saiki said he hadn’t received any proposals from the administration regarding a restructuring, and Kouchi only said he’s willing to work with the governor and counties on any proposals they bring forward.
About a thousand people rallied at the State Capitol on opening day last week, led by many of the leaders from the Mauna Kea demonstration. Groups there helped to register new voters as all 51 seats in the House and about half of the Senate are up for re-election this year.
“The only power they have is the power we give them,” Kaho’okahi Kanuha, an activist leader, said while pointing up toward the politicians’ offices on opening day. “The chief is the chief because of the people.”
Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell