Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Repeal of squatters law
advances at Legislature

Legislation would instead
create a petty misdemeanor offense

Lawmakers are moving forward to repeal a year-old law that allows authorities to ban people from public property.

House and Senate lawmakers meeting in conference committee yesterday agreed to repeal the law and create a new petty misdemeanor offense to address squatters on public parks and beaches.

Supporters of Act 50 say it was aimed at addressing squatters who can afford housing but instead choose to live on public parks and beaches. Critics say it criminalizes homelessness, is too vague and can be applied to any situation in which an official wants to ban someone from public property.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii challenged the law in federal court, but says its lawsuit would go away under the legislation approved yesterday. The measure still faces a final vote by the full House and Senate before going to Gov. Linda Lingle for consideration.

"The ACLU is very pleased that the Legislature has listened to the concerns of the public with respect to Act 50," said ACLU attorney Lois Perrin. "If the repeal passes, the lawsuit will either be withdrawn or dismissed."

The Lingle administration isn't likely to stand in the way of the repeal, Attorney General Mark Bennett said. "There was nothing (in the legislation) that would cause us to recommend that there be a veto," he said.

Senate President Robert Bunda introduced the bill that became Act 50.

Bunda (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea) said he was pleased with the compromise, but added that Act 50 still is strongly supported by residents in his district who say squatters on public parks are a nuisance and safety risk to the community

"Act 50 was not passed without sensitivity to those who find themselves homeless or in need of help," Bunda said in a statement.

He said he believes the proposal passed yesterday "will help law enforcement officials properly and appropriately deal with the problem of illegal squatters."

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