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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Anti-ice bills advance

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Wide-ranging measures aimed at tackling the state's crystal methamphetamine epidemic advanced out of both houses of the Legislature yesterday, signaling a strong likelihood that anti-ice legislation will be approved in this year's session.

Some Republicans objected to the proposals put forth by Democratic lawmakers, arguing that they do not go far enough in helping enforcement officials fight the ice problem. Others decried a part of the package that would require employers with 15 or more workers to provide one hour of substance-abuse training annually for their employees.

But such concerns were drowned out by speeches from Democrats sounding the cry for a need to address the epidemic and to do so quickly.

House Judiciary Chairman Eric Hamakawa, D-3rd (Hilo, Kea'au, Mountain View), said the ice epidemic has reached proportions where it is affecting "our economy, destroying our communities, hurting our families and killing our children."

Action urged

Failing to take major steps now, Hamakawa said, will result in the need for more government dollars to deal with the consequences of the epidemic when there are other priorities lawmakers need to address.

Each house passed two bills carrying similar language, and all passed by overwhelming margins.

House Bill 2003 and Senate Bill 3233 detail legislation designed to address different aspects of the ice epidemic, from stiffer penalties for some drug-related offenses to setting up a way for citizens to sue dealers for injuries they suffer. House Bill 2004 and Senate 3234 provide money for programs dealing with drug education, treatment and rehabilitation. The final language and other details likely will be worked out in conference committees at the end of this year's session.

The measures arose from a series of meetings held last summer by the Joint House-Senate Task Force on Ice and Drug Abatement in response to public outcry about the crystal meth problem.

Although the Democrats have called for up to $21.6 million for education and treatment programs, Republican lawmakers and the Lingle administration have dismissed such plans as throwing money at the problem.

House Bill 2004 provides about $19 million to pay for programs such as school-based treatment, substance-abuse prevention and adult treatment services. The Senate version of the bill includes the entire $21.6 million originally proposed by the joint committee.

But yesterday's debate focused more on other aspects of the legislation.

Hamakawa said House Bill 2003 would create harsher drug-trafficking penalties, give drug offenders treatment as an alternative to prison time and provide civil laws to help communities deal with the effects of ice.

On the enforcement end, the bill creates a new offense that sets mandatory minimum prison sentences and stiff fines for ice dealers and manufacturers, with enhanced penalties for those who deal with children.

But House Minority Leader Galen Fox said the bill does not go far enough.

"The only way you go to prison ... is if you manufacture, distribute or dispense methamphetamine, or possess with the intent to manufacture, distribute or dispense," he said.

Fox, R-23rd (Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kaka'ako), said that until 2002, possessing a certain amount of crystal meth would have resulted in prison time, but that the law was softened under a legislative mandate known as Act 161. The new bill would require prosecutors to prove intent, which, he said, is "virtually impossible."

Rep. Bob Herkes, D-5th (Ka'u, S. Kona), said he likes the legislation because it focuses on tackling the demand for ice.

"By attacking the demand, you'll have an impact on the supply side. If you just go after the supply side, all you're going to do is raise the prices that they can increase profits on," he said.

Cost to businesses noted

In the Senate, Sen. Sam Slom, R-8th (Kahala, Hawai'i Kai), said he opposes the provision in the bill that requires businesses with at least 15 employees to give workers one hour of drug prevention education a year or face fines. That requirement means extra costs for businesses, including the cost for the program and the cost of taking employees away from work, he said.

Plus, Slom said, "we are putting responsibility on business rather than on the individual."

Senate Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), said that one hour a year is not asking too much and that businesses should invest in their employees.

"The average number of hours a person works is 2,073 hours in a year," Hanabusa said. "We're saying one hour for drug education ... If kids can learn, adults should be able to learn, too."

Rep. Dennis Arakaki, D-30th (Moanalua, Kalihi Valley, 'Alewa), called ice a public health crisis.

"We need not to focus solely on punishment and law enforcement but instead on treatment, intervention and prevention," he said.

But Fox said not enough data has been collected on the success of treatment and prevention programs at this time to decide which ones should get money.

Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, who has been tasked by Gov. Linda Lingle to address the ice problem, said through a spokesman yesterday that he still has some concerns regarding the bills moving through the Legislature.

He said the administration questions and objects to the legislative task force's recommendation to spend $21.6 million for treatment and prevention programs, saying there is a lack of credible data about the need or such programs.

House Bill 2003 was approved 37-10, with four excused. Senate Bill 3233 passed 21-3 with one excused. House Bill 2004 was approved 47-0, with four excused; while Senate Bill 3234 passed 22-2, with one excused. Those voting against the measures were all Republicans.

Advertiser Capitol Bureau reporter Lynda Arakawa contributed to this report. Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.