Gov. David Ige signed into law a slew of progressive legislation on Wednesday that caps interest rates for short-term loans, mandates reporting of financial abuse against older adults and gets rid of a state law that allowed disabled people to be paid less than minimum wage.
“It is now more important and timely than ever that Hawaii stand in the acknowledgment of the African American experience here in this country,” he said, as well as “the significant roles and accomplishments of African Americans here in Hawaii and across the country.”
Hawaii is the second-to-last state to officially recognize Juneteenth. The bill signed by Ige stopped short of making Juneteenth a state holiday. But within hours of the signing ceremony, Congress approved Juneteenth as a federal holiday. President Joe Biden is expected to sign that bill into law.
Ige addressed the presence of racism in Hawaii when asked about recent Honolulu police shootings that killed 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap and 29-year-old Lindani Myeni. Sykap was a Hawaii resident who was Pacific Islander, and Myeni was Black and had recently moved from South Africa.
“I do think that, growing up in Hawaii, racism isn’t as prevalent as it is in other states. But we still see certain populations in our community are overrepresented in our jail population as well as our prison population,” Ige said. “And we need to continue our commitment to appropriately prosecuting actions that cross the boundary.”
“I do know that law enforcement in our community has worked hard to reform their processes so that we can eliminate the past practices that may have been prejudicial and not been the fairest to all of those in our community,” he said.
Justin Levinson, a law professor at the University of Hawaii, said measuring racism across society is difficult and complex but his research suggests negative implicit bias against Black people in Hawaii is comparable to other states, while implicit bias against other groups varies.
“What we know is nuanced,” he said. Hawaii residents have positive associations with Japanese Americans, while Levinson noted anti-Asian implicit bias is well-documented on the mainland.
Meanwhile, anti-Micronesian and anti-Black sentiment persist in Hawaii, Levinson said.
“People here have much stronger negative implicit bias against Micronesians (compared with the mainland),” he said. “I’ve done several studies myself on anti-Blackness here and on the mainland and no significant differences have yet to emerge.”
Bills Signed Into Law
Three other bills that Ige signed into law Wednesday were aimed at improving disparities affecting older adults, people with disabilities and low-income Hawaii residents who rely on payday lenders.
The state is phasing out payday loans and requiring lenders to switch to a new kind of short-term installment loan next year that will charge consumers less. Currently, Hawaii payday lenders can charge interest that, once annualized, may be as high as 459%.
The new law will cap the annual interest rate at 36% plus certain limited fees based on the loan amount.
Sen. Joy San Buenaventura said at the Wednesday press conference that in researching the bill, she couldn’t find any companies who were taking advantage of that exemption. Still, she and other lawmakers praised the change. Rep. Richard Onishi called the previous law outdated and discriminatory.
The governor said the bill “would restore equity, dignity and respect into our state’s wage laws.”