LIHU‘E — Governor David Ige announced Monday that he planned on vetoing 30 bills this session, including a contentious measure that would have eliminated cash bail for certain low-level, nonviolent offenses.
The measure, House Bill 1567, would require that judges release pending trial defendants arrested for traffic violations, nonviolent misdemeanors or nonviolent class C felonies — the least-serious felony offenses.
The bill carves out 20 exceptions, making it so it would not apply to those pending trial for another offense, those who failed to show up to a court date in the past two years, those charged with sex crimes, those with prior violent-crime convictions, and those charged with negligent homicide, unauthorized entry into a dwelling, DUIs or violating a restraining order.
Notably, the language of the bill gives judges the discretion to require bail for anyone who “presents a risk of danger to any other person or to the community, or a risk of recidivism.”
In a press conference Monday, the outgoing governor said that the bail-reform measure “does not adequately address several important issues, including the need to secure the appearance of defendants,” and that it “deprives judges of the ability to exercise discretion on a case-by-case basis.”
He said that he was concerned that the measure would allow for the release without bail of a felon in possession of a firearm, and those charged with burglaries in the second degree and arson in the third degree.
Prison-reform advocates voiced disappointment with the governor’s announcement Monday.
“People are considered innocent while they’re pretrial detainees. (Some) insist on treating them like they’re criminals,” said Community Alliance on Prisons Coordinator Kat Brady.
She described cash bail as a “multi-tiered” system that disadvantages the poor, contributes to overcrowding in prisons and leads to high costs associated with incarceration.
Kaua‘i Prosecutor Rebecca Like said that the bill would have “been a step in reducing the Hawai‘i’s reliance on cash bail,” and would have had “minimal impact on how we process cases on Kaua‘i.”
She also pointed to the disproportionate effect the current bail system has on Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
Shortly after its passage in the House in early May, the bill sparked a significant backlash, with the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, retailers, mayors from multiple islands and eventually even the bill’s introducer, Scot Matayoshi, calling for the governor to veto the legislation.
Kaua‘i Mayor Derek Kawakami was among those who added his voice to the growing chorus in opposition, joining a June 8 press conference with the other county mayors to call for a veto of the bail bill.
“Perhaps we should come back in with a measure that is more targeted so that we can do criminal pretrial reform in a manner that will ensure that we can keep our communities safe,” he said in a recorded statement.
Cash bail and overcrowding
Cash bail is a contributing factor to overcrowding at Hawai‘i jails and prisons, including the Kaua‘i Community Correctional Center, which has a population that consistently hovers around its operating bed capacity of 128, often going over.
Of the 137 inmates in KCCC as of May 31 for example, 59 were pretrial detainees, meaning that they had not yet been convicted of a crime.
One inmate, who requested not to be identified by name, reported that he had spent several months in KCCC while awaiting a court date on a drug-paraphernalia charge.
He reported that sometimes more than 10 inmates would be in a cell at a time, with some sleeping on the floor. Unable to afford his bail, he was only released after a man he met in jail helped him pay. “If you’re poor you don’t get a chance,” he said.
The state Department of Public Safety has acknowledged that the jails routinely hold more prisoners than their operational capacity, and that “overcrowding in the facility makes it extremely difficult to provide adequate space for physical distancing” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People can sit in jail for nine months or more if they can’t come up with bail,” said Kaua‘i prison-reform activist Blu Dux.
“Once you’re exposed to the justice system in that way, you can be ruined for life. And now with COVID, that is not a place that innocent people should be,” said Dux.
Among the 29 other bills the governor intends to veto are House Bill 1147, the state budget bill, House Bill 1570, which would have banned the sale of certain flavored tobacco products, and Senate Bill 2510, which would have established a state energy policy that requires at least 33.33% of renewable energy to be generated by firm renewable energy.
It takes two-thirds of the members in the Senate and House to override a veto. The state Legislature may convene before noon on July 12 to discuss vetoed legislation. Any measure passed during the 2022 legislative session that has not been signed or vetoed by Ige on July 12 will become law with or without his signature.
“The Senate will have to review Governor Ige’s list of bills he intends to veto,” said Senate President Ron Kouchi in a statement. “And discussions will have to be had with the House of Representatives to determine their inclinations.”
State House leaders issued a similar statement, that discussions are underway with House leadership about whether or not to call a special session to consider overriding one or more of Ige’s vetoes.
Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 647-0329 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: The Garden Island