COURTESY HOUSE MINORITY RESEARCH OFFICE
Pictured from left to right are Rep. Colleen Meyer, former Congresswoman Patricia Saiki, Rep. Barbara Marumoto, Rep. Cynthia Thielen and Rep. Marilyn Lee.
Caucus puts together package of bills to protect Hawaii women and keiki
Hawaii's bipartisan Women's Legislative Caucus strives to better the lives of Hawaii's women and their families. The caucus' 2008 legislative package addresses numerous issues affecting the well-being of women and families: education, domestic violence, health, public safety and human rights.
This year the caucus has dedicated its legislative package to former Rep. Patricia Saiki. Saiki has represented the people of Hawaii on both the state and national levels and has been tireless in her efforts to improve the lives of all Hawaii's citizens and particularly the women of our state. Hawaii became the first state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment when Saiki introduced bills that called for the legislation. The Equal Rights Amendment is now part of our state Constitution. There are approximately 25 bills on women's rights that became law from 1972 to 1975, and all were part of Saiki's equal rights package.
Each year the Women's Legislative Caucus submits a package of bills it deems appropriate for the problems facing our residents. We welcome input from other organizations and the community and the draft package is voted upon by all of the Caucus members. Bills that have been approved by 75 percent of the membership make up the final document.
One of the pressing pieces of legislation in this package is House Bill 2766, relating to domestic violence. This bill requires electronic monitoring of a person convicted of violating a domestic abuse temporary restraining order or protective order. After the horrific slaying last month of Janel Tupuola, it is clear that issues of domestic violence must be addressed and the resources provided.
Studies show that women make five to eight attempts to leave their abusers before succeeding. Leaving is the most dangerous thing a victim can do. Divorced or separated women, while only 7 percent of the U.S. population, make up 75 percent of all battered women. They are assaulted 14 times more often than women still living with a partner. Separation also increases the risk of abuse to children and the potential for custody battles (source: Parents and Children Together).
Another bill put forth by the Caucus is HB 2762, which provides protections for victims of domestic violence in the rental housing arena by prohibiting the termination of a lease due to incidents or threats of domestic violence, dating violence or stalking.
Despite our progress in social justice and equal rights, there are those who continue to harbor traditional sex-role stereotypes, where a woman is a man's possession. Culture sometimes influences those beliefs and the notion that whatever happens in someone else's household is not our business, even if violence is suspected.
Studies show that women are victims of violent crime more often than men. Due to this disturbing fact, the Women's Caucus is backing HB 2773 relating to DNA collection. This requires that DNA collection be done whenever someone is arrested on felony charges. This type of evidence is crucial to convict violent criminals. Further, it can provide crucial evidence for crimes that have already occurred. A case in point is the indictment of Frank Janto in connection with the stabbing death of Rose Chiquita on the Big Island 10 years ago. DNA evidence linked Janto to that crime. At the time of the indictment, Janto was already serving time for the murder of Bongak "Jackie" Koja on Oahu. Without DNA evidence the Big Island killing would still be in a cold case file.
Another bill related to the prosecution of crimes is HB 2765, relating to human trafficking. To ensure that trafficking crimes are properly prosecuted and not downgraded based upon the existence of an identical lesser-grade offense, this act amends the existing criminal statutes, specifically the kidnapping, extortion and promoting prostitution statutes, that are likely to be used to prosecute human trafficking cases. In addition, the act creates the new offense of sexual exploitation of a minor. These provisions would enable prosecution of human trafficking offenses under Hawaii law in a manner that is roughly equivalent to prosecutions under the Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, thus facilitating the successful prosecution of these heinous offenses.
The Women's Legislative Caucus is working toward better safety for women and in turn will create a better society, with less violence, for everyone in our beautiful Hawaii nei.
Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua-Kaneohe Bay) is assistant minority floor leader in the state House of Representatives.