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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Bill said to backtrack on sex offender registry

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

A bill intended to guarantee public access to sex offender's registration information was dealt a setback yesterday, with the House Judiciary Committee passing a version that requires a hearing to determine who is dangerous enough to be on the public registry.

Law enforcement officials and victim advocates were enraged at the committee's action, which they said restores the status quo. As a result of a 2001 Hawai'i Supreme Court ruling, sex offenders must be given a hearing before publicizing their information, a process law enforcement representatives said is unwieldy and inadequate in protecting children.

Senate Bill 2843 goes to the House floor and will likely go to conference committee negotiations to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the measure. The Senate's version proposes a constitutional amendment giving the public access to information about those convicted of certain sex offenses and crimes against children and allowing the Legislature to decide who would be on the list. Under the proposal, the Legislature could eliminate the requirement giving convicts a chance to object to the release of the information.

Yesterday's development drew protests from Republicans on the committee, who complained the House draft doesn't change the current system.

"We're not making progress with this," said Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-50th (Kailua, Mokapu).

Judiciary Committee Chairman Eric Hamakawa replied: "I believe we are."

The committee voted 10-3 to advance the measure, although half of those voting yes did so with reservations.

Hamakawa, D-3rd (Hilo, Kea'au, Mt. View), said if the Legislature determines which classes of sex offenders are put on the public list, some offenders will inevitably fall through the cracks.

"If the court makes the determination as to who's dangerous, they're doing it on a case-by-case basis," he said. "I think that's a better way to do it." Hamakawa acknowledged the bill is "almost the same" as the current process but that he wanted to advance the measure to continue discussions in conference committee.

"This is absolutely disgusting," state Attorney General Mark Bennett said after the meeting. "This is a very sad day for the rights of victims, women and children in Hawai'i. What the House Judiciary did was simply a sham."

The state used to post convicted sex offenders' names, photos and other personal information on a Web site but took it down in 2001, when the Hawai'i Supreme Court struck down a key portion of the state statute known as Megan's Law. The high court said it violated state constitutional guarantees of due process by not providing convicts with a hearing before publicizing their names.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 rejected a challenge from sex offenders, who argued they deserved a chance to prove they aren't dangerous to avoid having their pictures and addresses put on the Internet.

Opponents of the bill, such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai'i, said the state has one of the best sex offender treatment programs in the country and that sex offenders here are closely monitored and highly unlikely to reoffend. The state Public Defender's Office said the bill is unnecessary because the public is guaranteed access to such information as long as the state follows the required due process procedures.

The committee yesterday also advanced a measure that calls for an elected attorney general and an elected insurance commissioner. Some members of the committee expressed concerns about that as well, primarily because the committee's public hearing on the bill last week discussed only the issue of an elected attorney general and not an elected insurance commissioner.