Hawaii will not end the use of cash bail more than two years after a report on criminal pre-trial reform advised doing so.

House and Senate lawmakers could not agree on Senate Bill 1260, a measure that sought to end the use of money bail for some low level offenses. The practice has been criticized by advocates for being unfair to individuals who could not afford to bail themselves out of custody.

Sen. Karl Rhoads, the Senate’s negotiator on the measure, said during a hearing Wednesday that the bill already gets down to the “bare bones” of who could be eligible for release under the measure. The bill would end the use of cash bail for some non-violent misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor crimes and some low-level non-violent felonies.

Rep. Mark Nakashima, the House’s negotiator, asked that lawmakers kill the measure for the year due to concerns voiced by the state Attorney General’s Office.

“They note there was reform instituted just recently. They thought that making changes at this point didn’t allow the pros or cons of the reform to be played out, and so, I think the suggestion is that maybe we defer this measure,” Nakashima said during a meeting on the bill.

Oahu Community Correctional Center.
Lawmakers on Wednesday killed a bill to end cash bail for some low level offenses. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

“I think this means we are quite a ways apart,” Rhoads said shortly before deferring the bill for this legislative session.

Lawmakers can still take up the bill again in 2022.

Kat Brady, coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons, said she was optimistic heading into the session that lawmakers may move the needle on bail reform this year.

I’m really sad because it’s a reflection of how this state views people on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, and it breaks my heart,” Brady said.

Brady said this session has been a tough one for many reform measures. She noted a bill that would have overhauled Hawaii’s asset forfeiture laws died Tuesday.

Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm supports phasing out the use of cash bail, but previously said in written testimony that there must be a system ready to replace it. He recommended a bond that only requires payment if a defendant fails to appear in court.

Lawmakers Agree To Limit Gov’s Powers

Lawmakers also agreed to clamp down on Gov. David Ige’s emergency powers.

Hawaii has been under an emergency proclamation for more than a year after Gov. David Ige invoked powers that allow him to suspend parts of the law and take action to deal with the pandemic.

House Bill 103 would require the governor to get approval from the Legislature before extending an emergency period beyond 60 days. If lawmakers refuse to act on the governor’s request, then the period would automatically extend.

Governor David Ige gestures during press conference answering teleconferenced reporters questions. February 9, 2021
Gov. David Ige opposes measures that seek to limit his emergency authority. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The measure would also require the governor to explain in greater detail why laws are being suspended. For instance, Ige was criticized last year for suspending the state’s open records and meetings law.

Sen. Sharon Moriwaki, the Senate’s lead negotiator on the bill, said she and other lawmakers are pleased that HB 103 will move forward.

“Our residents are concerned with this never ending, rolling proclamation. This was to address that,” Moriwaki said, adding that the measure still allows the governor to take quick action in the event of major disasters like volcanic eruptions.

However, Ige and his administration have opposed the measure.

The governor’s office declined to say Wednesday whether Ige would veto the measure. If it does clear the Legislature, HB 103 would still need to go through routine department and legal reviews.

During an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight” program on Monday, Ige took aim at measures that seek to limit the extent of his powers. Other U.S. governors have told him of similar efforts in their states, Ige said.

“I really think it’s not helpful,” Ige said. “All of us in executive positions here are trying to make the best decision we can on behalf of the people. It’s impossible to predict what the emergency situation will be and what authority I will need to have.”

Lawmakers are also considering a measure to prohibit the governor and county mayors from suspending the state’s records law. House and Senate negotiators have not yet met on the bill.

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