Oreos law would
punish vicious animals
By Craig Gima
Jim and Shannon Wood remember when two roaming pit bulls attacked their black-and-white pet cat, Oreo, at their Kailua home last October.
"They (the dogs) came back in the middle of the night, tore down the walls of his compound and killed him and dragged his body into the yard," Shannon Wood said at the state Capitol yesterday. "He never had a chance."
The Woods appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, urging members to pass a bill they called "Oreo's law" that they hope would force owners of dangerous animals to control their pets.
The couple said the bill would address more than just dogs who attack cats.
After talking with neighbors, they discovered the dogs had been attacking other pets, as well as passing joggers and bicyclists.
"They were able to pretty much terrorize the neighborhood," Wood said.
Wood said the owners of the dogs paid a $50 fine, which she feels does not do enough to force owners of vicious animals to keep their pets confined.
"The attitude of the dog owners was that it was our fault for having cats that caused their dogs to go berserk, and it was our fault for not having a fenced yard," Wood said.
The committee is expected to take action on the measure next week. The bill would allow owners of animals that cause personal or property damage to be charged with reckless endangering if they do not confine or destroy the animals.
The Humane Society agrees that laws against vicious animals need to be stronger. Right now, the only options on Oahu are to pursue owners for violations of the leash law - which has a maximum penalty of $100 -- or file a civil suit.
But Pamela Burns, president of the Hawaiian Humane Society, said "Oreo's law" as written goes too far because it could force owners to choose between killing their pets or going to jail.
"It seems to punish the dog more than really holding the dog owner responsible," she said.
Burns said the Humane Society would like to see a new law modeled after a vicious dog ordinance on the Big Island. That ordinance provides for fines of between $100 to $1,000 and up to 30 days in jail for the owner of a vicious dog. The fines go up for repeat offenses, and there is a provision for a review panel to determine the circumstances of the attack, Burns said.
Burns said most attacks on other animals and people that are reported to the Humane Society involve dogs.
Judiciary Committee Co-chairman Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei) said the bill as written is vague and could have unintended consequences.
"We don't have the death penalty in this state for convicted felons, yet the bill invokes the death penalty for animals, and the bill as written may go too far," he said.
Chumbley said he will look at changes to the bill recommended by the Humane Society.
If "Oreo's law" does not pass the Legislature, Wood said the Honolulu City Council is scheduled to look at the issue next month.
Bills would endBy Pat Omandam
elected school board
Allowing Gov. Ben Cayetano to appoint Board of Education members -- rather than having them elected -- would not improve accountability in public education, says Board Chairman Mitsugi Nakashima.
"Presently, board members are directly accountable to the voters of this state, just as legislators and the governor are," Nakashima told state lawmakers.
"An appointed Board of Education would deny the citizens of this state the right to directly select and hold accountable its advocates for public education, and implies that they cannot be trusted to choose their own elected representatives."
Nevertheless, the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee yesterday approved two House bills that would lead to an appointed board.
Lawmakers said the legislation is needed because responsibility for public education in Hawaii is ambiguous as the board, the governor and the Legislature all have a say in funding Department of Education programs.
House Bill 149 HD1 proposes a constitutional amendment for an appointed board, similar to one Hawaii voters narrowly defeated in 1994. That measure now goes to the House Finance Committee for a hearing.
House Bill 150 HD2 would change state law so the governor, with help from a school advisory committee, would appoint the 15-member board. It goes to the House floor for a vote.
Larry Meacham, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, agrees with Nakashima that accountability will not increase if the governor names the board. For example, Meacham said, no one holds the governor responsible for the behavior of members of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents, whom he appoints.
"In fact, most people would not make the connection if the BOE were appointed, either," Meacham said.
Nakashima, during questioning by lawmakers, said there are about 15,000 school boards nationwide, of which 97 percent are elected boards.
He said appointed education boards are usually found only at the state level, and their duties are different from those of local school boards.
Rape drug use, repeatBy Craig Gima
The Senate Judiciary Committee today unanimously passed bills that would give enhanced sentences to people who use "date rape" drugs in committing sexual assaults, and make it a felony to repeatedly commit misdemeanor offenses like shoplifting.
Judiciary Committee Co-chairman Matt Matsunaga (D, Palolo) said using date rape drugs in a sexual assault should warrant stronger penalties.
Meanwhile, the so-called "habitual criminal" bill would make a felony of a fourth conviction for a misdemeanor offense.
The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor is a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. A Class C felony carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
In testimony this week, the Office of the Public Defender raised concerns that the bill could be used to target the homeless and mentally ill. The bill passed the Senate last year but failed to advance in the final days of the session.
"Even if the offenses are petty, they have a significant effect upon the system, and therefore additional penalties are appropriate," Matsunaga said.
Co-chairman Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei) said past experience has shown that putting repeat offenders in prison has helped reduce crime in Hawaii.
The committee also passed a bill for a computer system to keep better track of the state's prison population.
The system also would be able to give legislators and the state an idea of the impact of tougher sentencing laws on the prison population.
Other bills that advanced out of the Judiciary Committee today would:
Limit to 10 cents a page the amount a state agency other than the lieutenant governor's office can charge for copies of administrative rules.
Increase from $25 to $50 the amount of a penal summons for those who do not appear for traffic violations.
Allow the Judiciary to create a records management fee surcharge on civil cases.