Tougher public-safety laws pushed
Top law enforcement officials across the state will push for proposals this year aimed at improving public safety, including a bill that would tighten the control of convicted sex offenders.
Calling some of the state's laws "weak," the Law Enforcement Coalition -- made up of Attorney General Mark Bennett, police chiefs and prosecuting attorneys from the four counties -- announced a six-bill package yesterday for this year's state legislative session beginning tomorrow.
"We believe each and every one of these bills will make Hawaii a safer place," Bennett said at a news conference.
These bills include strengthening Hawaii's murder statute so convictions of second-degree murder can be based on the criminal's act itself rather than the intentions; allowing further prosecution for witnesses given immunity; making a defendant's prior convictions involving dishonesty admissible in a criminal trial; and protecting domestic-violence victims by imposing more serious offenses against restraining-order violators.
Under one proposal, the state would require and publish more information about all sex offenders on the sex offender registry site, including their age, expanded residence information, scars, tattoos and a link to a site detailing their criminal conviction. This information will be online for all sex offenders, as opposed to the current system, where only sex offenders with higher level of offenses are on the registry.
It would also require sex offenders to give police any e-mail addresses, instant messenger names, cell phone numbers and car registration, all of which would not be publicly available but would help law enforcement keep better track of sex offenders.
Sex offenders would also be required to have their photo taken every year beginning in 2009 as opposed to every five years. Also, the state would set up a system where the public can receive updates on sex offenders, such as those living in their ZIP code.
"The feedback we've gotten from the Web site has been virtually, universally positive," Bennett said. "The only less-than-positive feedback we've seen are people who want more information to better protect their kids."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, which had opposed releasing sex offenders' personal information, declined to comment on the proposals until the bills' details are available, said staff attorney Laurie Temple.
The bill would also target online predators, people who entice children to meet them for sexual acts after forming a relationship online -- a growing problem in the state and across the nation.
It would impose stricter penalties on people attempting or agreeing to meet children, regardless of whether they go to the meeting place. Those convicted of first-degree electronic enticement would face a heavier penalty than the current term of probation, Bennett said.
6 supported proposals
A group of law enforcement officials announced six proposals yesterday it will support this legislative session:
» Sex offenders: A bill would require more personal information to be published online in the sex offender registry for all convicted sex offenders. It would also impose stricter penalties for online predators targeting children, regardless of whether they arrive at the meeting place.
» Murder statute: A bill would amend the law so juries can convict criminals for second-degree murder based on their acts of violence, regardless of their intentions, as opposed to the current statute, which usually results in a manslaughter conviction and a lesser sentence.
» Immunity: A state constitutional amendment, to be decided by voters, would allow prosecutors to charge witnesses granted immunity in criminal trials as long as their case is not built on information from their testimony. Currently, witnesses granted immunity are free from further prosecution.
» Testimony in criminal trials: A proposed state constitutional amendment would allow defendants who take the stand to be impeached on the basis of any prior convictions involving dishonesty.
» Domestic violence: The bill would require criminals convicted of misdemeanor offenses of domestic abuse to undergo intervention programs to help protect victims.
» Protect Victims of Domestic Violence Act: The bill raises the seriousness of violent offense -- for example, misdemeanor assault to felony assault -- by those who violate certain restraining orders.