Tasers in demand
Bills would let more agencies use them
State environmental officers and county liquor inspectors would be allowed to carry nonlethal electroshock guns, known as Tasers, under bills advancing in the Legislature.
While both measures were introduced by majority Democrats, they do not have equal support.
The proposal to arm Department of Land and Natural Resources conservation and resources enforcement officers with the electric guns (House Bill 3016) was approved unanimously, while the bill to outfit liquor control inspectors (HB 3355) received nine "no" votes.
There were no companion bills introduced in the Senate.
Rep. Lynn Finnegan, the House Republican leader who voted against HB 3355, said she felt the proposal for the environmental officers was a stronger bill with more safeguards to address issues of training and accreditation for those who would use the Tasers.
"If a better bill comes along for the liquor commission, I'd consider that one in the future," said Finnegan (R, Mapunapuna-Foster Village).
Police officers in every county but Kauai already use the electronic guns, which subdue a person by temporarily disrupting the body's nervous system via a 50,000-volt jolt.
While they are touted as a nonlethal means of subduing unruly suspects, critics note a growing number of reports elsewhere that point to misuse and overuse of the guns by some authorities, as well as some deaths linked to their use.
Honolulu police recently announced plans to outfit all 500 of their Tasers with cameras, adding a layer of accountability when the guns are used.
"This tool, and the training provided with it, will enable them to better do their job safely, with less injury and confrontation to all parties involved," said Rep. Mele Carroll (D, Lanai-Molokai), who introduced the proposal for game wardens.
Rep. Kyle Yamashita, a co-sponsor of the liquor control officers' bill, said he introduced it at the request of Franklyn Silva, director of the Maui County Department of Liquor Control.
Silva requested the bill "because it's becoming a little more confrontational" for inspectors, said Yamashita (D, Pukalani-Ulupalakua). "He said he would feel more comfortable with them carrying a Taser versus a gun."
Among those who opposed the bill was the American Civil Liberties Union, which urged stricter policies on training and accreditation, and the Honolulu Police Department, which said arming inspectors could increase liability for the city.
The liquor commission bill was opposed by five Democrats and four Republicans.
Judiciary Chairman Sen. Brian Taniguchi (D, Moiliili-Manoa), whose committee would likely hear the bills, said he expects to hear from advocates and opponents in the coming weeks, but he has not yet decided whether to hear the measures.