Lawmakers advance bill to fund prison oversight group

HONOLULU — State lawmakers have advanced a bill that would grant additional funds for an all-volunteer corrections oversight commission that was granted powers in 2019 but has not had enough money to hire staff.

The House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs advanced the bill Tuesday.

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The oversight committee had been formed two years ago to oversee the state’s Department of Public Safety. The committee has met monthly, but has no staff to conduct much of the work approved, including monitoring correctional facilities, investigating complaints and implementing reforms to the correctional system, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Democratic Gov. David Ige had declined last year to fund the committee with an additional $330,000. This year, he did not include funding in the budget he submitted to the Legislature. That budget was passed by the House on Wednesday night and will now go to the Senate.

Ige told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last month that he had withheld the funds because of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic and that creating new programs “doesn’t really make a lot of sense right now, considering the state of the economy.”

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But, a nationwide economic upturn and the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine has allayed some concerns from state officials about the scope of the budget, the newspaper reported.

The additional funds have been supported by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and Community Alliance on Prisons.

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