Police accountability bill headed to Ige’s desk

A bill that would identify fired or suspended county police officers is headed to Gov. David Ige’s desk.

While neither the Senate nor the House voted unanimously Monday to pass House Bill 285 on final reading, enough “aye” votes were cast in each chamber to forward the measure to Ige for approval.

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If signed into law, Hawaii’s four county police chiefs would be required to disclose, in annual reports to the state Legislature, the identity of an officer upon an officer’s suspension or discharge from a county police department once the grievance procedure has concluded.

That means officers suspended or discharged between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of this year would be included in the next report to the Legislature due by Jan. 31, 2021.

Additionally, the bill would eliminate the exemption for county law enforcement officers under the Uniform Information Practices Act, allowing for the release of information retroactively upon request.

It also includes language clarifying the state law enforcement standards board’s power to revoke certification and requiring the panel make recommendations to the Legislature on policies and procedures, such as use of force..

Voting “no” in the House were Big Island Reps. Richard Onishi (D-Hilo, Puna) and Chris Todd (D-Hilo); Oahu Reps. Sharon Har, Daniel Holt, Sam Kong, Lauren Matsumoto, Bob McDermott, Val Okimoto, Sean Quinlan, Calvin Say and Gene Ward; Maui Reps. Lynn DeCoite and Troy Hashimoto; and Kauai Rep. James Tokioka. No legislators in the 51-member chamber were excused from the vote.

In the Senate, Big Island Sens. Lorraine Inouye (D-North Hawaii) and Kai Kahele (D-Hilo) along with Oahu Sens. Kurt Favella and Michelle Kidani voted “no.” Again, none of the chamber’s 25 members was excused from the vote, however, several voted “aye with reservations”: Big Island Sen. Dru Kanuha (D-Kona, Ka‘u) and Oahu Sens. Donovan Dela Cruz and Sharon Moriwaki.

Currently, the report submitted annually to the Legislature outlines misconduct, discipline and whether the grievance procedure has concluded, however, there’s no disclosure of identity. The law requiring the report to the Legislature, which is publicly accessible, has been on the books since 1995; its scope disclosing more details was expanded in 2014.

Introduced in the 2019 session by Scott Nishimoto (D-Oahu), HB285 was supported by various groups, media and individuals, including the state Office of Information Practices, Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii Chapter, American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest.

The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, SHOPO, the union representing officers across the four counties, and a handful of individuals opposed the legislation.

The measure died quietly in conference in 2019, but carried over to the 2020 session.

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Malcolm Lutu, SHOPO president, called the bill’s revival and passage in late June a reaction to incidents on the mainland, including the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minnesota at the hands of an officer and protests calling for greater transparency and accountability of police officers that ensued.

“I think it’s a knee-jerk reaction from our politicians to pass this bill,” he said.

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