Sunday, February 1, 2004

Lingle bills include
stricter crime penalties

Child porn and bribery are
among the offenses addressed

Gov. Linda Lingle has submitted 202 bills to lawmakers, fleshing out the 2004 legislative agenda she outlined in her State of the State address to a joint House-Senate session last week.

The measures range from decentralizing the public school system to housekeeping items, such as those ending her pointless task of signing monthly orders setting the minimum wholesale price of local milk, something that now is set by formula.

Crime bills make up part of the administration package, including tougher penalties for child pornography, driving after a drunken-driving license revocation, bribery and habitual property offenses.

Anyone convicted of three misdemeanors or a combination of three felonies and misdemeanors within five years would be considered a "habitual property crime perpetrator" under the bill and face a felony sentence for any subsequent misdemeanor convictions. The maximum penalty would be five years in prison.

Also facing a felony charge under another bill would be anyone caught driving after a court revoked their license for a drunken-driving convictions.

These people "are a danger to everyone else driving or walking on a roadway," the Attorney General's Office said in support of the bill. "Our citizens need to be protected from these individuals who act without regard to the law, court orders or the well-being of others."

To tighten the law against the sale of untaxed cigarettes, the administration wants those who sell tobacco products be required to have a retail permit as of July 1, 2005, with illegal sales a misdemeanor or a Class C felony, depending on whether fewer or more than 5,000 cigarettes are involved.

Another bill addresses the purchase and shipment of untaxed cigarettes and tobacco products by mail order or the Internet.

The Lingle administration believes it'll take an amendment to the state Constitution to restore public access to a sex offender registration and locator site in the Internet.

A bill proposes the amendment "making access to the registration information on sex offenders a constitutional right," according to the Attorney General's Office. It would add those convicted of a crime against a child, such as kidnapping or child pornography, to the mandatory registration list.

The governor, whose 2002 gubernatorial campaign called for an end to public corruption, is asking lawmakers to close a loophole in the law on bribery of public officials.

"Hawaii has had many unfortunate instances of public corruption in the last several years," according to the administration. "It is apparent that the existing bribery statute is insufficient to deter financial misconduct by public servants."

The bill would cover giving gifts to public officials or public officials taking gifts intended to influence official acts. The size of the gift would determine the penalty.

Other administration bills would:

>> Clarify which government-related boards are governed by the Sunshine Law requiring meeting notices and public meetings.

>> Allow courts to consider as evidence of negligence a victim's failure to wear a seat belt or helmet.

>> Let potential defendants in civil damages cases "offer apologies or other expressions of sympathy without fear of such gestures being used against them to establish civil liability."

>> Authorize the counties to regulate the sale, purchase, use and storage of fireworks.


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