Proposals to repeal
squatter law delay lawsuit

Sen. Bunda, who introduced
Act 50, wants to refine
the law but not repeal it

A federal lawsuit challenging the state's year-old law aimed at removing squatters from public property has been put on hold until the fate of the law can be decided by the Legislature, an attorney said yesterday.

"Parties have agreed to (hold off) the lawsuit, recognizing it is not prudent to spend taxpayers' money needlessly," said Lois Perrin, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii. The ACLU sued last year over Act 50 but says its lawsuit would not be needed if the law is repealed.

Whether that happens remains to be seen.

Both the House and Senate passed similar proposals to repeal Act 50, but the legislation has stalled while Senate President Robert Bunda, who introduced the bill that became the law, discusses options with colleagues that would address concerns about the law without repealing it altogether.

"Nobody has come forward with a plan," said Bunda (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea). "I want to be able to speak with fellow senators about coming up with language that will make sense to not only my community, but their communities as well."

Yesterday, groups including the ACLU and Kokua Council began sending letters, faxes and e-mails to the Senate urging lawmakers to act on the repeal to meet next week's deadline to complete work on bills.

"Act 50 is plagued by a number of constitutional problems, and the public has made it quite clear that it wants the law to be repealed," Perrin said.

Last week, about 200 people attended a rally at the state Capitol to call attention to the problem of homelessness and urge lawmakers to repeal Act 50.

"This bill has been hard fought by numerous community organizations and by individuals concerned that Act 50 has been misused," Kokua Council President Larry Geller said in a letter to Bunda.

The law allows authorities to ban individuals from public property for up to a year if they return to a site after being issued a warning to stay away.

Bunda said the law has strong support from residents and community groups in his district who say squatters are a nuisance and pose a safety risk to other park users.

"I think squatting is a major problem in Mokuleia, as I'm sure it's a major problem in some other parts of the island and also some areas in the neighbor islands," Bunda said. "These people who are on the beach are disrupting other residents who live close by."

Opponents of Act 50 say it criminalizes homelessness and that the wording is so vague it can be used by any public official who wants to ban someone from public property, including the Hawaii State Library, the University of Hawaii and airports.

The ACLU's lawsuit was filed on behalf of a man who alleged he was banned from the state library because he was accessing gay-themed Internet sites.

Attorney General Mark Bennett has said he believes the state would win the lawsuit, but adds that the Legislature should decide whether to keep the law.

Bunda said, "I say let's go on with the lawsuit -- let the attorney general go and fight this in court and see where we end up."

E-mail to City Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com