Gov backs bill with penalty for abandoning kids
House Bill 289 would make such an act a criminal offense
Gov. Linda Lingle is joining efforts to pass legislation to punish parents for leaving young children unattended in vehicles.
Lingle said changing the law will be a priority for her administration.
"It is only a matter of time before the practice of leaving children unattended leads to a tragedy," Lingle said yesterday in a written release.
So far this year, there have been four instances of children left unattended in vehicles that were stolen when parents left the keys in the vehicle or the motor running while stopping to run an errand. All children were recovered unharmed.
Lingle said she was supporting a bill (House Bill 289) that has been introduced by Rep. Marilyn Lee (D, Mililani-Mililani Mauka) to make it a criminal offense for endangering the welfare of a child by leaving the child in a car.
"My administration supports the legislation and will look for ways to strengthen it with the ultimate goal of educating parents about the dangers of leaving children unattended," Lingle said.
Noting that Lee has supported the bill for four years, Lingle said, "Now it's time for her colleagues in the Legislature to pass this bill before any more children are put in harm's way."
Lee welcomed Lingle's support, noting that her bill has the support of several legislative groups but has not been able to clear the House Judiciary Committee.
"The police supported (it), and the prosecutors supported (it) and suggested amendments," Lee said. "I want a law that says leaving kids alone in a car is a dangerous thing to do."
Hawaii does not have laws against leaving children unattended in vehicles, but 13 states do, including two that have harsher penalties if the unattended minor is injured or dies.
Lingle added that besides the danger of leaving children in a car open to car thieves, unsupervised children could tamper with the car's controls, accidentally setting it in motion.
Rep. Sylvia Luke, chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, said suggested changes to the child endangerment law would have dropped the penalty from a misdemeanor to a petty misdemeanor.
"Was the intent to actually lower the penalty?" Luke said.
Luke, the mother of a 3-year-old, said the four incidents were shocking and sad, and the problem would be revisited by her committee.
"We need some time to see what people really want," Luke said.
A concern is that the present law requires that someone "knowingly endanger" a child's safety, and guardians can say they did not know it would be dangerous to leave a child unattended.
Jim Fulton, a spokesman for Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, said the city would work with legislators to make a new proposal work.
The Honolulu Police Department testified last year before the House Transportation Committee in favor of the bill.
"Passage of this bill will allow law enforcement officer to provide for the safety and welfare of children left unsupervised within a motor vehicle," Maj. Kevin Shigemitsu said.
Last week, an Ewa Beach woman left her two boys, ages 1 and 4, sleeping inside her running van while she stopped off at a bank. The van was stolen and later recovered at the Kapolei Shopping Center with the children safe. Police later arrested a 29-year-old man for suspicion of auto theft and two counts of kidnapping.
In August a man left his 3-year-old son inside a truck at Carl's Jr. on Nimitz Highway. The truck and child were recovered in Salt Lake.
Earlier in June a 4-month-old girl was left in a pickup truck with the engine running outside a 7-Eleven near Nuuanu Avenue and North Kuakini Street. It was stolen and then recovered when a DHL delivery driver located the truck and child at a Red Hill church.
And in March a man left his 5-month-old girl inside his parked car with the engine running and went inside the Golden Coin restaurant on Liliha Street to pick up lunch. The car was recovered nearby, parked in a shady area about an hour later with the baby still inside.