A proposal to bring quicker resolution to domestic violence cases in Hawaii’s court system may stall on the governor’s desk over worries that it could allow abusers to possess guns.

Senate Bill 2638 is among six that Gov. David Ige said Monday that he may veto. The others include a new permitting process for homeless encampments, a ban on ex-government officials becoming lobbyists, energy requirements for new government buildings and several funding requests from the Legislature.

Ige said he hasn’t made a final decision on whether he will veto some or all of those measures. His deadline to veto those bills is Sept. 15.

Governor David Ige during press conference where he mentioned measures he was going to veto. August 31, 2020
Gov. David Ige indicated he may veto a bill dealing with domestic abuse over worries that it would allow abusers to own guns. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

On that same day, about 70 other bills are set to become law, including a slate of measures dealing with the environment as well as one that makes public instances of police misconduct.

House Speaker Scott Saiki said in a statement that Democrats in his chamber plan to discuss the potential vetoes with Ige. Saiki also said he plans to meet with the Senate to determine if there are enough votes in each chamber — 17 in the Senate and 34 in the House — to override any of Ige’s vetoes.

Senate Bill 2638 sought to streamline the flow of abuse cases through the courts by creating a new petty misdemeanor charge for abuse of a household member. Currently the charges are misdemeanors and felonies, which could both result in lengthy jury trials.

“Existing laws are not inclusive enough to encompass the entirety of the spectrum, given that some instances of low-level force are insufficient to meet the criteria of abuse of a family member,” lawmakers wrote in a committee report on the bill.

Having a petty misdemeanor charge means a judge in the case, and not necessarily a jury, can hold the trial.

“A judge is better trained than the average juror and can understand what has gone on, why the victim might be recanting, why she doesn’t have a broken bone but is still a victim of domestic violence,” said Nanci Kreidman, CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center.

Organizations like the DVAC hoped the bill could help speed abuse cases along to a resolution. 

Nanci Kreidman, CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center, advocated for SB 2638. Jade Moon

In some instances, defendants could ask for a deferral, where they would have the choice of pleading guilty or no contest in exchange for going through a court mandated program consisting of domestic violence intervention classes. 

The new system would run for five years after 2021 at which point lawmakers would evaluate how effective it’s been. Beside the Domestic Violence Action Center, SB 2638 also had the support of the state judiciary, the American Association of University Women and the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women.

Ige’s sole objection to the bill is that it could allow abusers to own firearms because getting a deferral means the defendant is not convicted of a crime. It’s also an issue the Honolulu prosecuting attorney’s office raised in testimony to lawmakers.

“Defendants who would otherwise be ineligible to own a firearm, would be allowed to now own a firearm following the completion of the deferral period,” the office said in written testimony.

But that’s already an issue with the law now, according to Kreidman.

She also said many abuse cases begin with restraining orders against the abuser, which if successful means they couldn’t possess a firearm. Kreidman said that could offset the governor’s worries that abusers may still have access to guns.

The governor may also veto House Bill 2124, which would ban high ranking government officials from becoming lobbyists within a year after leaving public employment. 

“I know the focus of this measure was at the governor and lieutenant governor level mostly, but the bill as drafted would affect many volunteer members of boards and commissions throughout the state, which would make it very difficult to recruit volunteers throughout the positions,” Ige said.

In providing an update on about $321 million of unspent federal relief monies, Ige also said that some of that could go to boosting unemployment benefits.

The state is set to receive about $200 million from the federal government to give Hawaii’s unemployed a $300-a-week “plus up” in addition to their UI payments.

Nearly one month ago, Ige held off on pumping relief funds into UI benefits while he waited to see what Congress would do.

Police Misconduct Bill Likely To Become Law

By indicating what bills he could veto, Ige has also shown what bills his administration supports or at least found no flaws in. Those include about 70 measures that cleared the Legislature in July which may become law with or without Ige’s signature.

Among the measures is House Bill 285, which would remove an exemption that helps shield instances of police misconduct from the public eye. 

Other measures that are likely to become law include a ban on coal burning for energy, buffer zones for landfills, greater building setbacks in coastal zones and a pair of measures that tighten Hawaii’s already stringent gun laws.

A ban on side gigs for the governor and county mayors is also likely to go into law, but wouldn’t take effect until the 2022 elections.

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