Wiretap law changes and
airport interviews are dismissed
as ways to battle the epidemic
Two key proposals in the Lingle administration's initiative for combating Hawaii's crystal methamphetamine epidemic appear dead before they are even submitted to state lawmakers.
The proposals -- changes to the state wiretap law and giving authorities more leeway to interview suspected drug traffickers at airports -- are not among the recommendations in a report of the Joint House-Senate Task Force on Ice and Drug Abatement released yesterday.
Task force Co-chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa said she is against these proposals right now but is not ruling out their passage.
The task force is making recommendations that focus on drug education, prevention and treatment to fight crystal meth, or "ice."
"This is what we believe the people want. They want something now," said Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua).
Hawaii law has more stringent requirements than federal law for judges to grant wiretaps. As a result, law enforcement officials have said evidence of drug trafficking gathered by investigators in federal wiretaps cannot be used to prosecute suspects in state courts.
The other proposal -- the so-called "walk and talk" program -- allows plainclothes police officers to approach suspected drug smugglers at airports, strike up a conversation and ask them to consent to a search.
The Hawaii Supreme Court struck down the program as unconstitutional in 1974. However, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice for federal investigators.
Hanabusa said "walk and talk" is not likely to be very effective since most drugs smuggled into the state come through the harbors and ports. And in its report, the task force expressed a concern for protecting the privacy rights of individuals and said wiretaps are the most intrusive of all investigative tools used by law enforcement.
One of the other co-chairs of the task force is Rep. Eric Hamakawa (D, South Hilo-Kurtistown), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who said the ice epidemic is a public health problem and should be treated on that basis.
"We certainly had hoped that the task force would recognize the need to adopt a 'walk and talk' constitutional amendment and a grave need to amend the wiretap laws," said Attorney General Mark Bennett, noting that he had yet to read the entire task force report.
Law enforcement proposals recommended by the task force include enhanced criminal penalties for drug traffickers and for harm caused to children exposed to ice in the home. Harsher penalties also will be sought for dangers caused by methamphetamine labs; operating meth labs near schools and public parks; and distributing drugs to pregnant women.
Other recommendations include amending the state drug paraphernalia laws to conform with federal laws to make it easier to prosecute people who sell implements used to consume illegal drugs. Also recommended are funds for more drug detection dogs in the state Department of Public Safety and to the Office of Community Services to coordinate community, government and law enforcement efforts to fight the ice epidemic.
The task force also proposes to tackle some confusion over a 2002 law that required judges to sentence first-time, nonviolent drug offenders to probation and drug treatment rather than prison. Rather than mandatory probation, which the Hawaii Supreme Court struck down last month in favor of mandatory prison terms for repeat offenders, the task force recommends giving judges discretion to sentence first-time offenders, who do not have lengthy criminal histories, to probation and referral to Drug Court.
The highest task force priority is for early intervention and treatment for adolescents. The task force recommends providing $4.5 million to expand school-based treatment programs to the middle schools. The task force did not recommend drug-testing students because parents can not waive their children's privacy rights, Hamakawa said.
Other recommendations include:
>> $3.6 million for substance abuse programs for children and families with children.
>> $10.7 million for adult substance abuse treatment programs with priority given to women of childbearing age, pregnant women, parents of young children and Hawaiians.
>> $1.2 million to expand Drug Court programs.