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Friday, April 14, 2000

Legislature 2000


Prosecutors want
to add other drugs
to DUI laws

Group urges swift action on fireworks

By Rosemarie Bernardo


A person who first gets convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol pays a small fine, loses his license and undergoes alcohol treatment.

Later on, the same person gets convicted while driving under the influence of marijuana, is given similar penalties but treated as a first-time offender under a separate category.

That person, under a bill considered by lawmakers, would become a second-time offender and face stiffer penalties. Lawmakers are treating the intoxicants as one and accumulating the offenses.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has passed House Bill 1881 Senate Draft 1.

"Our attempt is to do a reorganization and consolidation of the existing driving-under-the-influence laws in the state to include the drugs," said Sen. Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei).

But some members of the committee had concerns whether the bill would affect innocent drivers who take prescription medication.

Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Liliha), member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, "It does encompass legal drugs as well."

Police officer Cullen Kau, drug recognition expert at the Honolulu Police Department, said those who take prescription drugs have nothing to worry about as long as they do not show impairment.

"Unlike most states, in Hawaii, prosecutors must prove that the defendant was using a specific drug that appears on Schedules I through IV of Hawaii's controlled substances," said Deputy Prosecutor David Sandler.

"In most states the defendant is guilty no matter what kind of substance he was using, as long as he was driving impaired," he said.

Under current law and in the bill, chemical substances in prescription drugs such as Xanax, Valium and Soma could be grounds for conviction if the driver showed impairment.

"It's going to be challenging for the police departments and the prosecutors to determine the level of impairments for various over-the-counter drugs and prescription drugs," said Chumbley.

"Blood-alcohol level is easy to measure," said Chumbley.

Sandler said, "Unlike in alcohol, there are no established chemical levels of impairment for drugs."

Most drugs do not cause impairment, said Kau. He said drug recognition experts administer a 12-step evaluation to determine drug impairment of the individual.

"I think it's going to take some case law to be developed around driving under the influence of drugs to finally move us into a definitive impaired standard," said Chumbley.

The Department of the Prosecuting Attorney and Mothers Against Drunk Driving wanted to expand the definition of drugs so it would be consistent with the majority of other states.

"What the bill doesn't do is change the definition of drugs," said Sandler.

"What really happens is, people who abuse prescription drugs end up getting off, and we end up having to throw out their case," he said.

Sandler said one out of every five cases involves drivers impaired by prescription drugs that do not allow for prosecution.

There are other drugs not on Schedules I through IV that cause impairment, said MADD's Carol McNamee.

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Group urges swift
action on fireworks

By Crystal Kua


Environmentalists to state lawmakers: Get fireworks legislation approved this session.

"We waited patiently for meeting after meeting after meeting last year," said Steven Lee Montgomery of the Conservation Council for Hawaii. "We think it's time to make a clear statement that we don't want a repetition of last April where the clock ran out and nothing happened, nothing whatsoever."

The Conservation Council for Hawaii is calling on the Legislature to pass stricter fireworks regulations. Specifically, the group wants Rep. Eric Hamakawa, who leads the House conferees, to accept the Senate's position.

The Senate has backed down from its original position of a total fireworks ban but a major sticking point between both sides had been whether to give counties jurisdiction over regulating fireworks use.

Another disagreement has been with the number of fireworks. The Senate called for a limit of 500 firecrackers while the House had set a 1,500 firecracker minimum.

"Our state Constitution declares a citizen's right to a healthy environment, and we depend on elected officials to respond and correct the stunning deterioration caused by explosions ... which cause painful noise, respiratory illness, and loss by fire and injury to many residents and their pets," the council said in a prepared statement.

Neither Hamakawa or Sen. Cal Kawamoto could be reached for comment yesterday.

"I think citizens of the state have to do a lot of work now, contacting their legislators to insist on them tackling this and getting something approved this session so we get some sort of improvement," Montgomery said.

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