City Council scrubs body-odor proposal


POSTED: Friday, September 04, 2009

A proposal that raised a stink nationwide over an apparent attempt to criminalize body odor on public buses has been shelved by the City Council.

Bill 59 was deferred by the Council's Transportation Committee yesterday.

Honolulu gained nationwide attention, criticism and ridicule over Bill 59, which proposed a new code of conduct for users of the city's planned rail mass transit system. The code also would have applied to existing transit systems, including TheBus.

Civil rights groups and others criticized a provision that would have made it a crime—punishable by a fine up to $500, six months in jail or both—to have offensive body odor.

The code would have barred “;bringing onto transit property odors that unreasonably disturb others or interfere with their use of the transit system, whether such odors arise from one's person, clothes, articles, accompanying animal or any other source.”;

Police and the Prosecutor's Office raised concerns over the enforceability of the proposal as it is written, noting it would make it a crime to have body odor, and offenders would have a right to a trial by jury.

“;You would have us doing jury trials and calling in citizens for a person who had odor,”; said deputy prosecutor Lori Nishimura.

Law enforcement officials also noted the code of conduct overlapped with existing law—for example, criminalizing vandalism or gambling on transit property—when state laws already cover such offenses.

Honolulu Police Maj. William Chur said the department took no position on the bill, but was concerned over its potential to make criminal offenses out of activity such as eating, drinking or playing loud music.

“;Up until now that hasn't been a criminal sanction,”; Chur said. “;It may have been cause for a person to be asked to leave, but under this proposal these activities would, in fact, be criminal.”;

Councilman Nestor Garcia, co-author of the bill with colleague Rod Tam, said he would work on a new proposal to address constitutional issues raised by the language of the bill. The provision on odor is unlikely to be included.

“;One person's smell is another person's perfume, I guess,”; Garcia said. “;We need to try to figure out exactly how we go about that if we are to continue that kind of procedure.”;

Tam defended the bill, saying it arose out of constituents' concerns.

“;It's our job to do it, whether we like it or not, and whether people want to criticize,”; said Tam, who previously faced ridicule as a state senator for introducing a bill authorizing naps and snack breaks for public workers.

Councilman Romy Cachola urged colleagues to kill the proposal, noting the national attention it gained for Hawaii.

“;I believe that our tourists, our visitors, will be affected by this because sometimes they are so fickle,”; Cachola said. “;News like this will affect their decision to come or not to come here to Hawaii.”;

Cachola said he wanted potential visitors to know, “;This bill is dead.”;