A key Domestic Violence bill failed to pass in the State Legislature this session and supporters want to know why. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.
Senate Bill 2343 was drafted following a statewide listening tour by the 22-member Hawai’i Women’s Legislative Caucus. Senator Laura Thielen introduced the bill.
“It was a really huge effort and really a unique effort by the Women’s Legislative Caucus. Very collaborative. And so we had a lot of support around the state, all 4 prosecutors, all 4 police departments, the judiciary. Of course, there needed to be small details worked out within the bill but, in general, everybody was agreeing we needed to change how we process these criminal cases.”
Domestic Violence is currently a misdemeanor offense which allows the defendant to request a jury trial. Nanci Kreidman is CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center.
“Senate Bill 2343 would have made the crime of domestic violence at 3 degrees: a petty misdemeanor, a misdemeanor and a felony. The petty misdemeanor would have entitled a defendant – an abuser – to a bench trial, which means the judge is the person who listens to the evidence and considers the facts.”
But, Senate Bill 2343 was never heard by the House Finance Committee and died without a joint Senate and House conference committee meeting. House Majority Leader and co-convener of the Women’s Legislative Caucus, Representative Della Au Belatti, says testimony opposing the measure was overwhelming.
“One of the problems is, is that, if we’re gonna take away that option for a jury trial, it would have immediately, according to the testimony of the Office of Public Defenders, had a lot of appeals. Similar to the public defenders, the judiciary pointed out that it would require, potentially, up to 10 new judges in the Family Court. We’ve been struggling to fund even one additional family court judge.”
But, Representative Au-Belatti says lawmakers passed 4 out of 5 domestic violence bills introduced by the Women’s Legislative Caucus and says she is committed to crafting bills that will make positive changes.
“I think we have great testimony provided by many of the stakeholders in this. We know that domestic violence continues to be a real problem. We know that one area will be domestic violence intervention and training. Now, we have to look at that comprehensively. You know, not just at the point in the judicial system, but, comprehensively.”
Domestic Violence victims advocate Kriedman says proponents for tougher laws and early intervention will also continue their work before next session.
“You know, we’re not giving up and we certainly hope our women leaders and our women legislators will take another look and this and work with us to continue to move forward. That’s how we stay buoyant and responsive and effective.”
Senator Thielen says the Women’s Legislative Caucus needs to return to its roots and recommit to work together.
“We stumbled on the issue of sexual harassment this year and I think we stumbled on the issue of domestic violence by this bill dying in the manner that it did because the Caucus didn’t get together and discuss what the issues were and work out those differences. We need to kinda come back to the table as a group for the Women’s Caucus and remember our roles as leaders.”
For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.