Lawmakers were briefed Tuesday on some ugly proposed state budget reductions, including a plan to cut $1.4 million from treatment services to sexual assault victims over the next two years, and another that would “eviscerate” state enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.
State Attorney General Clare Connors told members of the House Finance Committee her office plans to cut $714,000 a year from its contract with the Sex Abuse Treatment Center, which subcontracts for treatment services with nonprofits on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island.
“We understand, especially right now during this pandemic, how important it is to continue to provide services to victims of sexual assault, but we did put in a reduction of 30% to that program,” Connors told the committee during a budget briefing.
“We’ve been working with the service providers,” she said. “They’re aware of it, they understand that with respect to the state’s fiscal concerns, there will have to be a look to other places right now for that money, but we will continue to support the program and support the service providers as best we can.”
Gov. David Ige has signaled that he would make deep cuts in state contracts with nonprofit social service providers to help cope with an enormous budget gap caused by the decline in tax collections as tourism shut down during the pandemic, and those cuts are beginning to surface in legislative budget hearings this week.
Julie Ebato, administrator of the Crime Prevention and Justice Assistance Division of the Attorney General’s Office, said the office now provides $2.38 million per year for the sex assault treatment program, which includes a range of services victims need including a 24-hour hotline and crisis counseling.
Staff in the AG’s office is still assessing the planned cut with the service providers on the four islands, “so we’re not quite sure what the amount of the impact is,” Ebato said.
Connors said there has been an uptick in domestic violence and other types of criminal conduct during the pandemic, and that is “something our department is very aware of.”
The Sex Abuse Treatment Center subcontracts for services with the YWCA of Kauai, with the Maui Sexual Assault Center operated by Child & Family Service on Maui, and with the YWCA of Hawaii island, Ebato said. The Sex Abuse Treatment Center did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Lawmakers also were briefed by Anne Perreira-Eustaquio, director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, who said the department is planning to cut “a couple of positions” in the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission.
William Hoshijo, executive director of the commission, said the administration plan would actually cut six positions at the Civil Rights commission, which would “eviscerate HCRC’s capacity to effectively and meaningfully perform its civil rights enforcement function.”
The commission enforces civil rights laws including bans on discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodation and state-funded services.
“We’re the only state agency where people who feel they’ve been discriminated against in those settings can seek remedy,” Hoshijo said.
About 85% of the commission’s cases now relate to alleged employment discrimination, and the largest portion of those cases grow out of complaints of disability-related discrimination, he said.
Most employment complaints that are filed with the commission are also filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he said, but the EEOC only has jurisdiction over employers with 15 or more workers. State law gives HCRC jurisdiction over smaller employers.
“We’re the place where they can go. Otherwise, the only option would be court, and for those who can’t afford a private attorney, that would be pro se,” meaning the victims alleging discrimination would have to draft the court complaints and argue the cases themselves, Hoshijo said.
House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke pointed out that the commission has been criticized because it takes too long to resolve cases. Hoshijo blamed staff shortages for a backlog in HCRC cases. “It will get worse as capacity is diminished,” he said.
In 2009 the agency had 11 permanent, full-time investigators but lost three of those staffers in the Great Recession, he said. Two of those remaining eight positions were vacant in March when the pandemic hit, and those positions were frozen.
Now the administration has proposed eliminating the two more investigators, two staff attorneys, a secretary and a program specialist, according to DLIR. Hoshijo said that “without investigators, we can’t enforce the laws.”
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