Law enforcement in Hawaii may soon be able to write up tickets for individuals caught breaking emergency rules set by Gov. David Ige and the four county mayors.

Senate Bill 540 would allow state or county officers to levy $200 fines against anyone that breaks pandemic emergency orders, like not wearing a mask in public, hosting large gatherings or hiking on state lands closed to the public.

It was approved by the full Legislature and sent to Ige on Friday for his consideration.

Under the current law, anyone accused of breaking those rules could be guilty of a petty misdemeanor and face up to a $5,000 fine and a year in jail.

“The pandemic is not over and not everyone is vaccinated, and so it’s still very important that we follow those rules,” Sen. Karl Rhoads said. “But having fines as opposed to a potential year in jail, I believe, will be a much more effective way of accomplishing that task.”

A Honolulu Police Officer cites people at Waikiki Beach. Mayor Caldwell recently closed all parks and beaches due to a spike in COVID-19 cases on Oahu. August 31, 2020
Emergency rules violators could face fines instead of a petty misdemeanor under a bill that cleared the Legislature Friday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

SB 540 has support from local law enforcement agencies, county prosecutors and the state public defender’s office.

Police on Oahu issued more than 60,000 emergency order violations, the Public Defender’s Office said in written testimony to lawmakers.

“There is concern that the criminal justice system has been unable to handle the great number of cases being placed into the court system because of the pandemic,” the state Attorney General’s Office told lawmakers in its testimony.

Homeless individuals have been disproportionately affected by pandemic rules enforcement, accounting for about 25% of violations.

SB 540 is among several bills the Senate voted to forward to Gov. David Ige’s desk on Friday. Others include measures to give state lessees a break on rent, provide more relief payments for some disabled individuals on fixed incomes and increase fees for state small boat harbors.

Ige can either veto those measures or sign them into law.

Lawmakers are also scheduled to meet next week to start negotiations on hundreds of bills that are still alive this legislative session.

One of those measures is Senate Bill 1350, which would defer scheduled pay raises for lawmakers, judges and other state officials until next year. The House voted to approve the measure Thursday, but the Senate would not agree to changes made to the bill.

On Friday, the Senate also voted to raise fees for boat owners at the state’s small-boat harbors.

Ala Wai Harbor Waikiki Beach Hawaii Prince aerial 0317.
Boaters across the state could see increased fees if Senate Bill 795 becomes law. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Those boat owners, some of whom live on their vessels, have long feared that the state might squeeze them out of their permits. Boaters already faced steep fee increases in 2019, and Senate Bill 795 opens the door to even higher fees.

The bill would allow a state contracted appraiser to set the boat docking fees at market value. Presumably, that would be higher than what boaters pay now.

If the bill becomes law, it would also require live-aboard boaters to pay double the appraiser’s value to continue living in their boats docked at harbors like the Ala Wai Canal and Keehi Lagoon.

James Callahan, who lives on a boat in a state harbor, said the new fee structure would be unfair.

“There’s no extra amenities … a live-aboard person gets in return for an extra fee,” Callahan told lawmakers during a March 18 hearing.

Ed Underwood, administrator for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Ocean Resources, told lawmakers at the same hearing that the department has struggled to raise fees since parts of the fee structure are written directly into the law.

“It’s never kept up with inflation and we’re just trying to bring it up to what it should be,” Underwood said of the new fees.

The boating division also has to contend with deferred maintenance for the state harbors totaling more than $300 million. The increased fees would help to pay for those repairs, Underwood said.

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