Both county prosecutors and the Hawaii Public Defender’s Office urged lawmakers to reject the bill, which would have singled out a staff member at one agency.

A state Senate committee quickly disposed of a bill Friday that would have reduced the pay of the top staffer for a commission that has been pressing for reforms in Hawaii’s correctional system.

Senate Bill 3283 would have cut the salary of Hawaii Correctional System Oversight Commission Oversight Coordinator Christin Johnson by tens of thousands of dollars, prompting critics of the measure to wonder aloud if Johnson was being punished for doing her job.

Johnson’s supporters included the Kauai and Hawaii County prosecutors, Hawaii Public Defender Jon Ikenaga and the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. More than 50 people or organizations opposed the bill to cut Johnson’s pay.

Mark Patterson, chairman of the Hawaii Correctional System Oversight Commission
Mark Patterson, chairman of the Hawaii Correctional System Oversight Commission, testified before a Senate committee against a bill that would have cut the pay of commission Oversight Coordinator Christin Johnson. The bill was killed in committee. (Screenshot/2024)

The commission has drawn public attention to problems in Hawaii’s jails and prisons ranging from broken video cameras to severe overcrowding and dangerous housing conditions.

The measure to cut Johnson’s pay was co-sponsored by Senate Ways and Means Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz and Sen. Troy Hashimoto, but no one publicly supported it. Dela Cruz and Hashimoto did not respond to requests for comment.

Supporters of Johnson, who has held the job since 2022, included Honolulu lawyer Michael Livingston, who said in written testimony that Johnson “has shone a bright light into a dark system that has been ignored for decades.”

“The Oversight Commission’s findings, based largely on the work of the Oversight Coordinator, have documented ‘horrendous conditions’ that reflect a ‘system failure,'” Livingston wrote. “And now, with strong support from Governor Green and the leadership of the Oversight Commission, meaningful change may finally be possible.”

Sen. Glenn Wakai, chairman of the Senate Public Safety and Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee, remarked after the public testimony that “the only thing good that came out of this bill is that we see that Christin Johnson has a lot of friends.”

Wakai then deferred the bill, meaning the committee took no action on the measure.

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