Thursday, May 31, 2001

Law already allows
harsh punishment
for ‘hate crimes’

The issue: Two young men on
Kauai have been charged with
attempted murder for the alleged
assault on a group of gay campers.

HATE CRIMES are not a frequent occurrence in the diversity of Hawaii, but the attack on a group of gay men camping at a state park on Kauai is a chilling demonstration that bigotry exists in the islands.

The heinous nature and apparent underlying motivation of the assault are a reminder that Hawaii is one of only a few states without hate crime laws and an illustration of why none is needed. Judges, juries and the Hawaii Paroling Authority have flexibility to act severely in expressing outrage without having to categorize victims of crime by race, sexual preference or any other characteristic or perpetrators by their beliefs, however misguided.

Two Kauai men face charges of attempted murder and long lists of other felonies for the alleged assault Saturday on the group of campers at Polihale State Park along Kauai's western coast. The teen-aged defendants are accused of setting fire to one tent, pouring kerosene on a second one and trying to run down several campers with their car.

Martin Rice, one of the campers, said the defendants repeatedly screamed "faggots" at the campers and one shouted, "The Bible tells us to kill you Sodomites."

The defendants, if convicted, will not face increased penalties based on their alleged homophobic impulses. Governor Cayetano has on his desk a bill passed by the Legislature last session authorizing increased sentencing for crimes motivated by a victim's race, religion, disability, ethnicity, national origin or sexual orientation, but he has indicated he might sign it into law.

"I frankly believe the laws we have in place are sufficient to protect everyone," Cayetano said last week. "The question is whether this is a problem we need to speak to."

The governor said he may add his signature to the legislation for the same reason that he supported the Equal Rights Amendment, even though he believes women have equal rights under existing law -- "because it does make a statement about an issue which is very important to the nation and the community." In other words, signing the bill into law would be politically popular.

The various players in the justice system often are driven to "make a statement" as an expression of outrage at the offense committed or, in some cases, at zealous prosecution in the absence of a crime. Such a statement should not be injected into the statute itself.

Legislature’s mistakes
erode public trust

The issue: Procedural errors
force state lawmakers into
holding a special session.

Public confidence in government took another blow with the news that a special session of the state Legislature will be required to correct procedural errors in the passage of the budgets for the state Judiciary and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and a bond authorization bill.

The taxpayer tab for the five-day session next week will be about $15,000, an amount that won't break the bank. The bigger price that lawmakers will pay, however, is furthering the public's perception that government in Hawaii is incompetent.

The problem occurred when the House clerk's office sent the bills to the governor before the Senate had approved them, counter to state law that requires both houses' approval before legislation is so transmitted.

Anyone can make a mistake, especially in the flurry of activity that comes at the end of the session. But these procedures are familiar matters to legislators and their staffs. The public has a right to expect that they know how to take care of business.

Despite some lawmakers' argument that the problems are technicalities, the law is the law and Governor Cayetano is correct in calling the session to make things right.

This mess may be an embarrassment to legislators but they should be aware that many citizens aren't particularly surprised by the situation; many see these mix ups as government as usual.

It's time for voters to throw off that attitude and demand more of their elected officials. No citizen should be expected to accept these fiascoes; good enough is not good enough for an efficient and effective government.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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