The bipartisan group of legislators finds joining forces helps get measures passed at the Legislature.

Domestic violence can continue well beyond an initial incident, as people who abuse their intimate partners later use court proceedings to continue a pattern of harassment, intimidation and coercion.

In a family court, for example, abusers may use legal-separation or child-custody cases to harm or exploit their partner as well as make life more difficult for their kids.

Under proposed House and Senate companion bills now pending at the Hawaii Legislature, a court would be granted the authority to restrict what is described as “abusive litigation” from someone who has abused, stalked or sexually assaulted another party.

If passed and signed into law, the legislation could also grant a court the power to dismiss a case or complaint if “a preponderance of the evidence” shows that its main purpose is to cause further harm. The court could even impose sanctions against the abusive litigator.

The Hawaii Women’s Legislative Caucus unveiled its bill package for the 2024 session Wednesday at the YWCA Laniakea in downtown Honolulu. (Chad Blair/Civil Beat/2024)

“It creates a tool for the state and for the courts to be able to prohibit abusive litigation,” said the bill’s lead introducer, Rep. Trish La Chica. “It’s really a tactic that abusers continue to use to harass their victims of domestic violence.”

The abusive litigation measures are part of the Hawaii Women’s Legislative Caucus bill package for 2024, which was unveiled Wednesday morning at a breakfast forum at the YWCA Laniakea in downtown Honolulu.

The bipartisan caucus consists of the 21 women serving in the 51-member House, and the eight women in the 25-member Senate. For well over a quarter century the caucus has advocated for the many interests of women, children and families in the islands.

Among its successes last year were acts to specify requirements for child custody evaluators and to set up a statewide human trafficking prevention program within the Department of the Attorney General.

While not every women’s caucus bill gets passed, the sheer number of women legislators putting their name behind the legislation usually gets noticed by other lawmakers. The House version of the abusive lawsuits bill, for instance, has several dozen co-introducers including Majority Leader Nadine Nakamura and Minority Leader Lauren Matsumoto.

The measures also invariably draw the support of male legislators like Rep. David Tarnas, who chairs the only committee — Judiciary and Labor — that House Bill 1965 faces in that chamber. That bodes well for its passage. And Vice President Michelle Kidani is taking the lead on pushing the Senate’s version of the legislation.

Rep. Linda Ichiyama, one of the caucus’ four “co-conveners” this year, said it can be difficult for the group to reach consensus on what bills will make the cut. Three-fourths of the members have to agree on individual items, and they have to be ranked in the top five in terms of priority.

The other bills introduced by the caucus this session would:

  • require the Department of Human Services to establish and implement a child care provider subsidy and bonus program;
  • call on health insurers, mutual benefit societies and health maintenance organizations to provide health insurance coverage “for various sexual and reproductive health care services”;
  • shift the administration of the human trafficking victim services fund from the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to the attorney general; and
  • provide more time for civil action for childhood sexual abuse to be initiated.

The work of the Women’s Legislative Caucus is not limited to presenting its annual package of legislation. Current events can crop up unexpectedly and add new urgency to long-term matters such as homelessness and mental health.

Sen. Lorraine Inouye remarked on the case in Hilo earlier this month where a newborn was hospitalized after a woman gave birth on a sidewalk.

“She was a homeless woman with no care. And she’s been bouncing all over the place from one camp to another,” she said. “We need to somehow get to them in advance before anything happens.”

Inouye said she hoped the counties, and not just the state, would do more to “take care of our own females.”

Rep. Della Au Belatti, chair of the House Committee on Health and Homelessness, stressed the need to work with the broader community in addressing such problems. She said the 2024 session, which started last week and runs through early May, will focus a spotlight on services and programs for youth suffering from mild to moderate mental health issues.

Civil Beat’s community health coverage is supported by the Swayne Family Fund of Hawaii Community Foundation, the Cooke Foundation, Atherton Family Foundation and Papa Ola Lokahi.

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