Friday, May 7, 1999

Last-minute bills
cover range of issues

By Ben DiPietro
Associated Press


Legislature '99 They are not the bills that grab the headlines and dominate the news, but they are the types of legislation that affect daily lives of isle residents.

More than 200 pieces of legislation were approved Tuesday during the last day of the 1999 session. They included bills offering tax credits for long-term medical care, permitting child-care services in townhomes and hospice care in residential community homes, and charging for rescues when warning signs are ignored.

Other measures change the age teen-agers can get driver's licenses and allow designated surrogates to make health-care decisions for those dying patients that can no longer make their own.

Those decisions would not include whether to terminate life support but would include whether to provide food and water in some cases.

"You find in many different areas there really were first-class products," said House Majority Leader Ed Case (D, Manoa). "Long-term care, health, child protection ... the women's caucus will tell you they had one of their best sessions ever for women's issues. In many areas I think the Legislature produced a top product."

People who drive while intoxicated will face additional fines and jail time if someone 12 years old or younger is a passenger in the vehicle. Similar penalties were added to domestic violence statutes, while child-support enforcement laws also were strengthened.

Police will have expanded use of an infrared photo ticketing system that mails citations to drivers who speed or fail to stop for red lights, while teens seeking driver's licenses now will have to wait until age 16, up from the current age of 15 years, three months.

The age for obtaining a learner's permit also was pushed back six months to 15.

Two of the more controversial measures that were approved allow people who live in townhomes to provide child-care services, despite objections from some who say the state is telling property owners -- in this case townhome associations -- how to use their own land.

Supporters say permitting hospice care in residential community homes is more appropriate and cost-effective than leaving people to die in hospitals or alone in their own homes.

But opponents say regulation of such facilities should be left to the counties, since each island has different zoning rules.

In education, bills to add more teachers will decrease class sizes, while implementing performance standards will allow for measuring the success of Department of Education programs.

Also, high schools in Hawaii now must ensure female athletes are not excluded from participating in any athletic activities offered by the school. And some students will be riding to school in tour buses after lawmakers allowed them to be used as school buses.

Lawmakers also made it a crime for minors to buy or use laser pointers.

Shoplifters and thieves who steal items of a value just under the level that would elevate the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony would be targeted by another bill. After the fourth misdemeanor theft, they would face a mandatory nine-month jail term.

"I think when you go through the accomplishments ... whether it's putting teeth into the criminal justice system and to protect women, all the way down to the charter schools ... I think this is a good legislative session," said Senate President Norman Mizuguchi (D, Aiea).

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