coalition has wish
list for Legislature
A 'habitual criminal' law,
a prison and tougher murder
laws will be requested
By Craig Gima
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Toughening murder laws, jailing "habitual criminals" and a new computer system to keep track of prisoners are among the priorities of a coalition of law enforcement agencies this year at the state Legislature.
Attorney General Margery Bronster said that as the number of crimes has dropped across the state, the group has focused its agenda on only a few bills, mainly to address the problem of repeat offenders, and what it believes are problems with the state's murder laws.
For the first time in several years, the group of the U.S. attorney, state attorney general, county prosecutors and police is not asking for a truth-in-sentencing bill requiring those convicted of a crime to serve at least 85 percent of their terms.
What is new is a request for a computer system to help the attorney general and Department of Public Safety better manage the prison population and project the effect that truth in sentencing and other tougher crime laws would have on crowding.
The system is expected to cost about $300,000 and could be operational in about two years, said Senate Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei).
In an effort to crack down further on repeat offenders, the coalition is pushing again for a law that would allow prosecutors to charge a person with a felony after three misdemeanor property crime convictions.
Proponents of the "habitual criminals" bill say it would allow police and prosecutors to go after people who repeatedly commit minor thefts without risking long jail time.
Public Defender Richard Pollack said he opposes the bill because it would most directly affect those who are unable to help themselves.
"The result of this bill will be that our overcrowded prison system will become more congested with the homeless and mentally ill with little or no increase in public safety," he said.
The coalition is pushing to change the definition of first-degree murder to include cases other than multiple murders or the intentional killing of a judge, prosecutor, police officer or witness.
First-degree murder carries a sentence of life without parole. Other intentional killings are considered second-degree murder and allow for life with parole.
Other bills being proposed by the coalition would:
Allow "felony murder" so prosecutors can charge a person with second-degree murder, rather than manslaughter, if an unintentional killing occurs during the commission of a felony.
Allow prosecutors to charge a suspect with second-degree murder for killings that occur with extreme recklessness.
Address a state Supreme Court decision that does not allow prosecutors to charge someone with a felony firearms offense and another felony.
Allow a judge to consider past criminal convictions that occurred as far back as 25 years when considering mandatory minimum sentences.
House majority unveilsBy Pat Omandam
plans to spur economic
Two years ago, House Democrats said the state was at an economic and social crossroad.
Last year, they said the economy had fallen into a crisis and needed fixing from government.
This session, the House majority's buzzword is change.
The Democrats say their emphasis will be on building public trust by restoring Hawaii's sluggish economy.
"Our business climate and its ability to produce jobs for our people must come first," said House Majority Leader Ed Case (D, Manoa). "But to truly change our economy, we must also accelerate our efforts in all other areas: government operations, justice and public safety, healthy families and communities, and our environment," he said.
The 39-member Democratic majority caucus yesterday unveiled plans to spur economic development by restructuring, reducing or eliminating the corporate tax, general excise tax pyramiding and GET on exported services, and offering selected tax credits in four areas: biotechnology, health, high technology and education.
But how much, where, when and what kind of savings these tax plans would generate are specifics the majority caucus says are in discussion. The majority package is made up of 49 bills and 26 resolutions, although not all proposals yet are tied to legislation, Case said.
Left out of the majority package is House Speaker Calvin K.Y. Say's (D, Palolo) tax proposal of a dollar-for-dollar match in tax credit for the renovation or replacement of Waikiki hotels. This tax credit -- aimed at spurring Waikiki revitalization -- would be applied to all state taxes over a 10-year period.
Say yesterday said he put the measure out for discussion. Although it is not part of the majority package, he said it could affect the hotel room tax, the corporate tax and the general excise tax.
"The whole exercise for this particular measure I share with all of you is this: If a particular landowner wanted to renovate and build an expansion to his or her property, this would be the incentive," Say said.
Other initiatives by the House majority for measured, long-term improvements to the economy include permanent status for the temporary visa waiver program and the expansion of the foreign arrivals and customs terminal at Honolulu Airport.
Also, Democrats offered plans to support diversified agriculture, market Hawaii-grown products elsewhere, secure federal construction projects for local companies, and promote competition in local utility and telecommunications industry.
House Finance Chairman Dwight Y. Takamine (D, Hilo) said parts of this puzzle are not yet ready because lawmakers have to take a broad look at "all the pieces," as well as see how they fit with Gov. Ben Cayetano's economic plans once he gives his State of the State address on Monday.
House Minority Leader Barbara Marumoto (R, Waialae Iki) said the majority's proposals of tax cuts and incentives sound like Republican Party measures. Democrats may be coming around, she said.
Lawmakers ready toBy Pat Omandam
tackle end-of-life issues
The House majority is supporting the unanimous recommendations by a state blue-ribbon panel on living and dying, but is taking a "wait-and-see" attitude on the panel's more controversial recommendations: doctor-assisted suicide and doctor-assisted death.
House Health Chairman Alex Santiago (D, Pupukea) yesterday said the Legislature discussed these issues last year, and there seems to be a consensus the state could do a lot more to address end-of-life care.
Santiago said lawmakers are ready to tackle these issues.
"However, on those two specific issues ... we are going to move very cautiously," Santiago said.
"I believe that the debate is beginning. There is so much more to be learned."
In its final report last May, the panel came up with six unanimous recommendations. The first requires spiritual counseling be made more available to individuals who are afflicted with life-threatening illnesses by integrating those services more fully into the health care system.
Another calls for public education programs to increase awareness of the choices available to the dying. Also, advance directives for health care, including living wills, would be more specific, their use more widespread, and their provisions more binding.
The remaining recommendations are:
That hospice care be made more available and offered more expediently to the dying.
That effective pain management and other symptom control programs be required in all licensed health care institutions.
That involuntary euthanasia should continue to be a crime.
A majority of the 18-member panel recommended legalization of doctor-assisted suicide and doctor-assisted death or euthanasia.
In the report, panel Chairman Hideto Kono said those two recommendations give individuals wider choice in end-of-life decisions.
It will require changes in existing laws, rules and practices, all of which are based on long-standing tradition and deeply seated beliefs, he said.
Agency asks state toBy Craig Gima
lower charge for
If the governor were to make copies of state documents on a photocopy machine, the cost would be about 5.7 cents a page.
So why is the state charging the public a fee of 50 cents per page to make copies of state rules?
That's a question the Legislative Reference Bureau is asking lawmakers to consider.
The research agency of the Legislature looked into a new law passed last year that requires the public to pay for the copying and mailing of rules. Another measure hiked the price of copying from 25 cents a page to 50 cents.
"Some folks want to try and erase the budget problems by charging for public documents," said Larry Meacham, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii.
"No. 1, the money is not enough. No. 2, the public has already paid for this, because we pay for the salaries of public officials who make these rules."
As a test of how much it actually costs for a state agency to make copies, the Legislative Reference Bureau made 10 copies of a 25-page set of rules. It took about six minutes to make the copies, including the time it took to fix a jammed machine.
Calculating the price of paper, copier and labor, the bureau estimated the cost of making copies would be 4.3 cents a page for an employee making $20,000 a year.
It would only be 5.7 cents a page if the governor, who makes $94,780 a year, made the copies.
The bureau recommends the Legislature change the law to make the fees optional, rather than mandatory, and that the rate be not more than 10 cents a page plus the actual cost of mailing.