Sunday, November 25, 2001

Sex offenders deserve
chance to shed past

The issue: The Hawaii Supreme Court
has ruled that the state's public registration
of sex offenders is unconstitutional.

HAWAII'S version of Megan's Law requiring public registration of sex offenders has been struck down by the state Supreme Court as unconstitutional, a ruling that should result in corrective legislation. People convicted of sex offenses should be allowed to prove they have been rehabilitated and to be freed from the registration requirement.

Sex offenders ought to be allowed to challenge their inclusion in the registry at their sentencing. The state Legislature also should allow them opportunities in later years to prove that rehabilitation has made their sex-offender designation unnecessary. Public protection, not punishment by humiliation, should be the goal.

The law, enacted in 1997, was challenged by Eto Bani, who pleaded guilty to fourth-degree sexual assault for grabbing the buttocks of a 17-year-old girl in Waikiki. The conviction placed Bani's identity, home address and workplace location on a state Internet registry of about 550 convicted rapists, child molesters and other sex offenders -- for what may have been the rest of his life.

Hawaii's high court unanimously found the law to be in violation of the state constitutional right to due process, privacy, equal protection and protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

"The state must allow a registered sex offender a meaningful opportunity to argue that he or she does not represent a threat to the community and that public notification is not necessary, or that he or she represents only a limited threat such that limited public notification is appropriate," Justice Mario Ramil wrote for the court.

The Hawaii law clearly does not provide such a "meaningful opportunity." The only opportunity for convicted sex offenders to argue that they be released from the registry comes at least five years after their convictions. Even then, the offender must present "clear and convincing evidence" -- the law's most severe burden of proof -- of why the person should be allowed to shed the designation. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in striking down that state's version of Megan's Law last year, deemed a similar provision to be "constitutionally repugnant."

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the Pennsylvania decision, but it also has declined to review decisions that upheld Megan's Laws in Tennessee, New York and the pioneering state of New Jersey. In 1996, President Clinton signed into law a requirement that states provide public notification of sex offenders' whereabouts, but state courts must determine whether the circumstances are fair.

Loophole gives Hirono
an advantage

The issue: A state law doesn't take
into account the switch of candidacy
from a statewide office to a county post.

The state campaign spending law that pegs the number of fund-raising events to the level of political offices may have had some rational foundation. What has resulted, however, are inequities and opportunities for abuse, and the law should be amended to eliminate loopholes.

The issue was raised when Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono earlier this month switched her candidacy from governor to Honolulu mayor. The law allows a candidate for a statewide office an unlimited number of fund-raising events in a four-year campaign period, but mayoral candidates may conduct only two fund-raisers.

While she was a candidate for governor, Hirono held six fund-raising events, four more than permissible if she had declared for mayor at the start of the campaign period that runs from Nov. 4, 1998 to Nov. 5, 2002. Because the law does not address switching candidacies, the state Campaign Spending Commission had little choice but to let Hirono to hold two more fund-raising events, giving her an unfair advantage over other mayoral aspirants. Hirono will be required to return the difference of donations between the maximum of $6,000 per donor allowed in statewide campaigns and the $4,000 limit permitted for the mayoral race. However, because she can hold two more fund-raisers -- she will have then had a total of eight for the period -- she still retains an edge.

The commission's decision sets a precedent. If the law is allowed to stand, the panel would be hard pressed to deny another candidate the same ruling. The loophole would permit candidates to declare for an office with the more liberal regulations, raise funds through the campaign period up until the deadline for filing candidacy papers, which is the July before the November election. So for three and a half years, candidates could hold an unlimited number of events, then, at the last minute, make the switch.

The commission's executive director, Robert Watada, says he will ask the state Legislature to amend the law in the upcoming session and lawmakers should rectify the matter.

Meanwhile, the commission should more stringently apply the law to force candidates to take responsibility when they receive contributions in excess of what is permitted. Five donors to Mayor Jeremy Harris' campaign for governor have been fined for illegal contributions. Harris' attorney, Chris Parsons, has said the campaign committee did no wrong and put the blame on the donors, saying it is impossible for the committee to police itself.

Watada, however, says the committee has "a very clear obligation to monitor contributors and contribution limits." With the commission investigating 60 other donations to Harris, his campaign officials should be keep close watch as other donations come in. As Parsons said, illegal donations "embarrass" Harris' campaign. More than embarrassment, Harris' people should guard the appearance of the candidate's integrity.

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

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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