Wednesday, January 27, 1999

Bill would put
line even lower

By Pat Omandam


Kathleen Masunaga doesn't believe having one alcoholic drink should be enough to have you declared legally drunk if you drive.

A proposal making its way through the state Legislature could do just that.

Senate Bill 31 would lower the legal blood-alcohol concentration level for driving under the influence from 0.08 to 0.04 percent, legislation Masunaga opposes, especially with tough laws already on the books to deal with impaired or drunken driving.

1999 Hawaii State Legislature "If I were to consume one glass of wine, I would register at 0.04 based on my weight and gender," Masunaga told senators yesterday.

"You could also register at 0.04 BAC the morning after consuming alcohol," said Masunaga, president of the Hawaii Restaurant Association, which opposes the measure.

Dr. Fred C. Holschuh, a Big Island emergency room doctor since 1972 and past president of the Hawaii Medical Association, has witnessed countless deaths and serious injuries from traffic accidents caused by drunken drivers.

Holschuh said that a 1997 report by the American Medical Association shows that "substantial and consistent" impairment begins at 0.04 or 0.05 percent, which increases the risk of fatal crashes.

While not against alcohol consumption, Holschuh strongly opposes drunken driving and said he wants the Legislature to set an example for Hawaii's children and the nation by lowering the drunken driving level to 0.04 percent.

All states now comply with a federal law that sets the DUI levels for commercial drivers at 0.04 percent.

"We will never make a real impact on alcohol impaired driving until children grow up knowing that it is intolerable to drink and drive," Holschuh said.

The state in 1995 lowered the legal DUI level from 0.1 percent to 0.08 percent during a special session, so why is it being lowered again, asked state Sen. Randall Iwase (D, Mililani).

Instead, Iwase wants DUI advocates to decide the issue of DUI levels once and for all.

"What are we getting at with the (proposed) law?" Iwase asked.

"What are we trying to do? We ought to end it someplace."

Sen. Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa) questioned about whether lowering the level to 0.04 percent would have any effect.

"If you have 0.02 or 0.04, you may as well have zero tolerance," Bunda said.

Honolulu police Capt. Stephen Kim, acting captain of the HPD Traffic Division, said 221 drivers were arrested for possible DUI between 1996 and 1998 but were released because their blood-alcohol level was too low.

But if not taken off the streets, Kim said, they could have caused fatalities because they were stopped for impaired driving.

When questioned later, Kim told lawmakers that 0.04 percent equates to someone who drinks between one and three bottles of beer or one and three glasses of wine, depending on the person's gender and size.

The HMA added that medical spending attributed to DUI is estimated at $5.4 billion a year nationwide, with each victim bearing an average cost of $36,000.

Dr. Craig Thomas, another emergency room doctor, said in written testimony that lowering the DUI level to that of commercial drivers will mandate that impaired drivers stay off the road.

He said it would send a message that driving and drinking are not compatible.

Opposing the measure with the Hawaii Restaurant Association were the Libertarian Party of Hawaii and Legislative Information Services of Hawaii.

"It is a bad message for our tourism industry, and it is an overkill, when the real problem is individuals that have been convicted for multiple offenses under our current DUI law," said Legislative Information Services Executive Director Richard C. Botti.

The Senate Transportation Committee forwarded the measure yesterday to the Senate Judiciary for consideration.

Panel says pay jurors more,
boost travel allowance

By Craig Gima


The House Judiciary Committee has voted to increase the pay given to jurors but is holding off on a salary hike for judges.

Under a House proposal passed yesterday, jury pay would go up from $30 to $40 a day and the travel allowance would rise from 33 cents to 37 cents for each mile traveled to and from court.

The money for the increases, about $660,000, still needs House Finance Committee approval.

The Judiciary Committee also voted to repeal the exemption from jury service for attorneys, heads of executive departments, elected officials, judges, ministers or priests, doctors, dentists, members of the military, police officers and firefighters.

The Hawaii Medical Association and Deputy Public Defender Ronette Kawakami argued against repealing the exemption.

The medical association said it could disrupt patient care. Kawakami was concerned that more people who would likely be excused would clog up the jury system.

But Maui Circuit Court Judge Shackley Raffetto, who worked on a study to improve the jury system, argued that eliminating the exemption would lead to more representative juries.

"I think our first duty is to be a good citizen and if we're lucky enough to be a doctor or a lawyer, well, that's great, but our first duty is to be a good citizen," he told the committee.

Meanwhile, House Judiciary Chairman Paul Oshiro (D, Ewa Beach) recommended the committee defer a bill to increase judges' pay by 8 percent over the next two years.

The Judiciary is recommending judges receive a 27 percent raise over three years. Pay for judges now ranges from $81,780 for District judges to $94,780 for the Supreme Court's chief justice.

Courts Administrator Michael Broderick's proposal also would change a retirement provision so future judges would not be allowed to retire with benefits after 10 years of service and before reaching age 55. Current judges would keep the benefit. Gov. Ben Cayetano vetoed a pay raise for judges two years ago because the bill did not address retirement pay.

Charles Khim, an attorney for the Hawaii Government Employees Association, urged the committee to "stop the bleeding." He said the state's best judges are leaving the bench because of low pay. "We pay the (UH) football coach three times the amount of money that the chief justice is being paid. Is that what justice in our society is worth?"

Campaign reformers
are trying to close ‘soft’
money loophole

By Richard Borreca


Campaign reformers are hoping the state Legislature will close a loophole that allowed more than three-quarters of a million dollars in "soft" or unregulated political money into Hawaii campaigns last year.

Under state campaign spending laws, political parties may get up to $50,000 from a single source, and give that amount.

The state Republican Party, for instance, got $557,703 in contributions of more than $6,000 from just 20 donors. The Democrats got $265,550 in contributions of more than $6,000 each from 12 donors.

Common Cause Hawaii and Hawaii Clean Elections have testified in favor of a bill which would limit party contributions and donations.Toni Worst, president of Hawaii Clean Elections, said today's law lets major political donors flood the state with unregulated money which can be used by a political party.

The GOP gave $181,200 of the money collected last year to candidates, while the Democrats only gave $30,140 in direct contributions. Both parties used the rest of the money for issue advertising, office expenses and other campaign related tasks.

The bill is similar to one in last year's Legislature dubbed the "Stop Lingle Bill," so-called because it would have limited donations to political parties just when Lingle was relying on help from the national GOP.

The measure last year was not approved, and this year it faces criticism from both major political parties.

Donna Alcantara, GOP chairwoman, said the bill would stop parties from helping candidates and would therefore limit a candidate's ability to raise money.

Jane Sugimura, spokeswoman for the Democrats, agreed, saying the donations to political parties are needed to help build the political process in the state.

"The beauty of a political party is that it supports people who believe in your values, so supporting the party is the very height of democracy," Alcantara said.

Worst, however, defended the move to restrict donations, saying existing laws give the rich an advantage.

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