Friday, June 22, 2001

veto draws fire

Legislators criticize Cayetano's
rejection, consider a special
session to override it

By Richard Borreca

Gov. Ben Cayetano's surprise veto of a bill raising the age at which minors can have sex has some lawmakers talking about a special session to override the veto.

The special session would be the second one since the legislature adjourned last month.

Both Republicans and Democrats criticized Cayetano's rejection of the bill that would forbid consensual sexual relations between adults and minors younger than 16, provided the age gap is more than five years and the two are not legally married.

GOP party chairwoman Linda Lingle denounced the veto.

"Hawaii will remain the only state in the nation to legally permit an adult to have sexual contact with a 14-year-old," Lingle said.

Republican House Leader Galen Fox (R, Waikiki) called Cayetano's veto "an outrage" and said that if the rejection isn't overturned, "Democrats will be held accountable."

"Maybe this is the time for the Legislature to stand up and say 'enough is enough' -- we are calling on the Democrats to separate themselves from their governor," Fox said.

"The governor once blamed the victims, not the predators, by saying, 'Given the world today, it is not easy to tell who is 14, 15 or 16 years old,'" Fox complained.

Democrats said they were upset at the veto because it came after the Legislature fashioned a compromise bill that had met the objections of many law enforcement groups that at first were against the bill.

House and Senate leaders already are talking about gathering the needed two-thirds majorities to call themselves back into session for a veto override.

"Now that he has vetoed it, I would assume there will be a cry among legislators for an override," Senate Vice President Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae) said.

She said the veto will "cause a lot of discontent."

In the House, Vice Speaker Sylvia Luke (D, Pauoa) said the age of consent bill is one of several bills that Democrats consider critical.

"At this point we are talking about it, and that is more than we have ever done before," Luke said.

"This is an emotionally charged bill; it is something that the Democratic party feels has been worked on," she said.

There has not been a veto override in Hawaii in 40 years.

Sen. Brian Kanno (D, Makakilo), Judiciary committee chairman, said the bill was designed to go after "the predatory behavior of adults going after children.

"It is a difficult issue and has become more and more of a concern and is affecting families," Kanno said.

Kelly Rosati, Hawaii Family Forum executive director, called Cayetano's veto an "affront to all the parents and concerned citizens who demanded action to protect Hawaii's minors from adult sexual predators."

Cayetano said in his veto message that the bill applies only to consensual sex and would "criminalize consensual sexual relations between adults and 14- and 15-year-old minors."

The bill creates crimes that are overly broad, Cayetano said.

"In some situations (it) may inappropriately bring teenagers and young adults as both victim and defendants into the state's criminal justice system," Cayetano said.

Saying the measure "defines the crime by the relative ages of the individuals involved," Cayetano said that could create harsh results.

"For example, a 19-year-old individual who exercises poor judgment and engages in consensual sexual activity with a 14-year-old could be prosecuted and branded a sex offender for life under this bill," Cayetano said.

"In these cases, neither society's interests relating to criminal law enforcement nor the well-being of these teenagers and young adults will be advanced by this approach," Cayetano said.

Fox said Cayetano's objections "don't match up to reality."

Fox said Hawaii has the third-highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation and that predators seduce "children into drugs, then prostitution and eventually toss them out."

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