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Saturday, February 24, 2001

Legislature 2001

Raising isles’ age
of consent will protect
girls from predatory
adults, counselor says

The Senate judiciary panel
will decide Tuesday whether
to send the bill to the full
Senate for a vote

By Pat Omandam

As a youth counselor for a downtown nonprofit agency, Eva Chun has worked with many 14-year-old girls who have boyfriends much older than themselves.

Chun said there's a danger girls at this age may be easily coerced into sexual acts or even forced into prostitution to please or impress their older partners.

"I have also worked with young girls who became pregnant by their older partner, causing them to be isolated from their own families and friends," Chun said.

A proposed amendment would make it illegal for a girl between 14 and 16 to consent to having sex with a person who is five years older and not legally married to her.

The current age in Hawaii for a minor to consent to sex is 14, the lowest of any state.

The bill drew mixed testimony at yesterday's hearing. Rather than passing an age-of-consent bill this session, some believe a task force review is needed. Others, like Chun, said protection is needed from predatory adults.

And still others oppose any age-of-consent law, saying teen-age sexual conduct is a public-health issue that cannot be addressed through legislation.

Changing Hawaii's age-of-consent law has become a hot topic this legislative session. House Republicans recently pulled an age-of-consent bill out of a committee to debate it before the full House. But they were unsuccessful in getting discussion on the matter.

The Senate judiciary panel will decide Tuesday whether to send an age-of-consent bill to the full Senate for approval, the last hurdle before going to the House for debate.

In other action this and next week before the Legislature:

Bullet GOODBYE, SAND ISLAND: A joint Senate panel will hear a bill Tuesday that changes the name of the Sand Island State Recreation Area to the 100th Infantry Battalion State Recreation Area, in honor of those who served Hawaii and the country during World War II.

Bullet PART-TIME BENEFITS: The Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and Housing Committee will hear a bill Monday that requires employers to offer part-time workers a chance to join the employer's group medical insurance plan, provided the part-timers pay 100 percent of the insurance premium.

Bullet TRY, TRY AGAIN: The 19 Republicans in the state House again tried to remove the state's general excise tax on food, medical services and low-income rent, but -- just as in sessions past -- those efforts fell hard on the House floor.

Democrats said the move would cut into state tax revenues to the tune of about $236 million a year. Republicans said the tax cuts would stimulate the economy.

Meanwhile, both parties have resolved their dispute over bills recalled by the House minority. Republicans can now debate bills they pull out of committees, while Democrats won't be put on the spot by having to cast votes on the merits of any recalled measure.

Bullet ELECTED TOP ATTORNEY: Republicans also recalled a bill for an elected attorney general, but the measure failed in the 51-member House. Hawaii is one of only five states with an appointed attorney general. If chosen by the people, the state's top legal beagle would be responsible to the people, not to politicians, Republicans said.

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