Massive power failure, traffic jam prompt bills
There is something about a calamity that makes people say, "There ought to be a law."
At this year's Legislature, the wish for more new laws is being fulfilled. Already, there are five major proposals addressing recurring problems and potential disasters.
Some of the bills
» HB 356 would make it a crime to leave a child unsupervised in a car.
» HB 375would increase penalties against a car driver who enters a crosswalk when a pedestrian is present to $150 for the first infraction, and $300 for a second infraction and the loss of the driver's license for three months.
Last October, for instance, more than 5,000 passengers were left to stumble around in the darkened Honolulu Airport, which was left without lights by an islandwide power failure triggered by earthquakes off Kona.
Gov. Linda Lingle said she would consider whether Honolulu Airport, the state's busiest and one of the most used airports in the world, should have its own independent electrical power.
To do that, HB 1092 calls for generators for all state airports and commercial harbors, at an estimated price of $20 million.
The Senate Transportation Committee notes in a report that "these generators will enable the state to provide safe, efficient, and orderly airport and harbor services without interruption during unforeseen power outages."
Also unforeseen was the 14-hour traffic jam last September, when a military vehicle clipped a pedestrian bridge spanning the H-1 freeway, forcing officials to close the road for safety reasons.
Thousands of motorists had little advance warning, and many were forced to either sleep in their cars or abandon them for the night.
Now, House Bill 1608 would give the governor and the state transportation director emergency powers in case of a temporary road closure that endangered the public.
In the case of a county road emergency, the state's four mayors would also have emergency powers. The proposal would allow officials to "take any action that may be necessary until access to the designated area has been established."
Essentially, the bill would allow the government to seize a cane haul road, for example, and use it to reroute traffic without having to go to hearings.
Republican Sen. Sam Slom criticized the bills, saying, "We already have laws on the books to address these situations. We don't enforce the laws, and it is a jerk reaction that is really aimed at the symptoms rather than the causes."
Instead of passing new laws, Slom said, the state and the counties should exercise existing powers to manage government.
Other new proposals target far more serious problems.
For instance, after deadly gunbattles between police and suspects in 1998 and 2004 in the Mayor Wright Housing project, the Legislature wants to add three full-time security guards.
The Senate Human Services Committee is pushing forward a bill, HB 320, that would add the guards, noting that the "public housing complex has experienced an increase in incidence of public drunkenness, excessive noise and conflicts between neighbors."
In 2004 a suspect was killed and a police officer shot during a gunbattle at Mayor Wright. On New Year's Day 1998, off-duty officer Teneri Maafala returned fire and killed 18-year-old Benedict "Tiki" Manupule at the housing.
Also, lawmakers are repeating their calls for a special law to make it a crime to leave a child unsupervised in a car. The bill, HB 356, is winning support in the Senate.
"Although parents mean well, the seemingly innocuous practice of leaving a child in a motor vehicle, even momentarily, to buy groceries or do banking can have disastrous consequences," a committee report notes.
Earlier this month, a 3-year-old girl died after being left in a car for more than an hour. In 2005 there were four instances of children left unattended in vehicles that were then stolen when parents left the keys in the vehicle or the motor running while stopping to run an errand. All those children were recovered unharmed.
Finally, legislators are noting that already this year, 10 pedestrians have been killed on Oahu and that 20 pedestrians died last year after being hit by vehicles.
Although a 2005 law makes it illegal for a driver to enter a crosswalk if a pedestrian is already in a crosswalk, a new bill, HB 375, would increase the penalty to $150 for the first infraction. For the second infraction, the fine would go to $300, and the driver would lose his license for three months.
Jaywalkers would also be fined, up to $100 for each violation.