Sunday, June 17, 2001

Laws controlling
dogs need to be

The issue: Governor Cayetano has signed
into law a measure that allows counties to
create ordinances against attacks by dogs.

VICIOUS dogs have become a menace in Hawaii and elsewhere in the United States because of the failure by their owners to keep them under control. A new state law allowing counties to create ordinances addressing the problem is not likely to eliminate that danger unless the ordinances themselves are crafted to prevent dog attacks instead of merely reacting to them. By law, dogs should be kept under control at all times -- not just in retrospect after attacks -- and violators should face severe fines.

The potential danger of canine attacks gained attention last Saturday when a pit bull on the Big Island attacked and killed an 18-month-old boy, Tyan Moniz-Hilderbrand, and severely mauled his mother, Luana Moniz, who remains hospitalized. The dog belonged to a friend and apparently slipped out of its collar while being kept temporarily at the Moniz home. It was clearly an accident that no reasonable law would have prevented, but the incident was a reminder of the potential danger of some dogs.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Jan. 26 lethal attack on Diane Whipple at her San Francisco home by two Presa Canarios -- bred in Spain's Canary Islands for guarding and fighting, and imported into the United States. The couple who own the dogs have been charged with manslaughter and the husband with second-degree murder.

More common is the danger caused by dogs escaping from their owners' property and roaming neighborhoods. Hawaii law allows the victim of a dog attack to file a lawsuit against the dog's owner if the same person has been attacked previously by the same dog. (Apparently the dog gets one free attack.) That is more a restriction against the victim than it is an entitlement; lawsuits alleging negligence resulting in dog attacks should be allowed in the absence of such a law.

The City Council agreed in December to allow fines of up to $2,000 and 30 days in jail for owners of dogs that have injured people or other animals. The problem with the new ordinance is that it provides no appropriate penalty for failing to contain a dog unless an attack occurs. The penalty for violating the leash law, thus creating the dangerous situation, is only $50.

About 150 dog attacks are reported yearly on Oahu, according to the Hawaiian Human Society. Nationally, nearly 5 million people a year sustain dog bites, more than 500,000 require medical attention or restricted activity and an average of more than a dozen people are killed.

These injuries and deaths occur because of the negligence of the owners in allowing their dogs to roam free. Such inexcusable disregard for public safety should result in severe penalties regardless of whether it resulted in an attack.

bill has a long
way to go

The issue: Before the sweeping legislation
is put in place, there are many details to be
worked out and many questions to answer.

CONGRESS is pushing ahead on President Bush's education bill that will link government funds to student performance and require annual tests to measure how well children are learning.

While the legislation could improve public education in the nation, the myriad details about testing -- the foundation of the plan -- threatens to halt the program even before it starts.

Policy makers should confront the conflicting philosophies about testing in schools, a debate that has become louder among parents, teachers and school administrators in recent years. Questions have been raised about the validity of tests as a measure of learning, cultural biases that may skew results, cheating among students, scoring errors and incorrect data from testing enterprises, test-driven curriculum and the distraction of testing from other problems in education.

Other concerns involve the mechanism that testing will require, such as how to establish one set of standards when the legislation as it stands now will allow each state to choose its own test, or how to measure mitigating factors, such as a large immigrant school population.

Then there are local problems, such as how a school incorporates a jump in the number of students when a nearby facility, deemed a failure, is shut down and under what circumstances will a parent be allowed to switch a child from a classroom to private tutoring.

Hawaii school superintendent Paul LeMahieu believes that annual tests for children from grade 3 to 8 aren't necessary. "You don't need to take the plant out to check the roots but every so often," he told the Star-Bulletin. Many teachers believe such frequent tests would interfere with lessons, saying they would spend more time preparing children for them than on the curriculum.

Test results may help shape curriculum by showing educators where students need more attention, but that should not be the only qualifying base for receiving federal funds. There should be some flexibility in a national education program.

Because the bill greatly increases the federal government's role in public schools, policy makers should show fiscal responsibility. States and school districts cannot carry the burden of the increased costs the bill will bring. The broad mandates of the program will surely require additional bureaucracy and Congress and the president should not allow bean counters and administrators to carve out a large piece of the budget pie. Nor can they promise to fund the program then renege as they have done with special education. When it established the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act, Congress pledged to pay for 40 percent of the cost. For Hawaii, federal contributions have never exceeded 12 percent.

How much money will be allotted for the education bill hasn't been determined. President Bush's budget grants $19 billion for education next year, while the Senate wants $41.8 billion and the House $24 billion. If Bush or members of Congress are to make political hay from this bill in their election campaigns, they should realize that without adequate funds, their grand scheme to improve education will amount to little.

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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