Tuesday | February 21, 2017
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Lawmakers advance bills on marijuana, elections

HONOLULU — Hawaii House and Senate judiciary committees are moving forward bills to decriminalize marijuana, curb child prostitution and reform state elections.

The bills were some of a broad range of proposals the committees considered Tuesday addressing topics ranging from voter turnout to leaf blowers.

The Senate judiciary committee approved a bill Tuesday to make the possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana a civil offense, not a criminal one. Offenders would also pay a $1,000 fine.

Thirteen of the state’s 25 senators co-sponsored the initiative. A separate bill to legalize marijuana in Hawaii died in the House earlier this session.

Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, says the purpose of the bill is to help diminish the judicial backlog for marijuana criminal cases. Hee says he wants to set the civil fine at $1,000 to emphasize that the drug is still unlawful. He says that currently people who are criminally prosecuted for marijuana possession pay just an average of $100.

The Honolulu Police Department testified that the bill would make it harder for officers to enforce the law against marijuana because they won’t be able to arrest offenders and won’t be able to require them to present IDs.

Pamela Lichty, president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, supports decriminalization of the drug but says that imposing a $1,000 fine on the offense sends out a mixed message.

The House judiciary committee voted to approve a proposal on Tuesday aimed at improving Hawaii’s voter turnout by allowing people to register to vote on Election Day.

The state has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation. Proponents say same-day voter registration could help change that, but county clerks say it would pose logistical difficulties.

The committee also approved an amended version of a proposal to curb child prostitution by making it a crime to solicit prostitution from a minor. Offenders would be charged with a felony and have their names included in a sex offender database. The proposal is supported by several anti-trafficking organizations but is opposed by the state Office of the Public Defender.

But not all of Tuesday’s proposals received lawmakers’ stamp of approval.

Rep. Karl Rhoads, the judiciary committee chairman, deferred a bill that would have limited when people can use leaf blowers. The bill was opposed by members of the landscaping industry who said they are worried about how it would hurt their businesses.