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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Women's caucus optimistic

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

The bipartisan Women's Legislative Caucus yesterday presented a package of 30 bills and resolutions addressing women's rights, children's issues and reproductive health.

This session the caucus has placed a focus on domestic violence but will introduce or support "bills relevant to the well-being of women and families," said state Rep. Marilyn Lee, D-38th (Mililani, Mililani Mauka) at a news conference. This will not be the first time many of these bills are introduced but members said they are optimistic about the prospects this session.

"There will be rigorous efforts to make sure these bills pass," said state Sen. Rosalyn Baker, D-5th (W. Maui, S. Maui).

The women's caucus is made up of the female members of the Legislature 18 state representatives and six state senators. All bills included in the package have the support of at least 75 percent of the membership, said Lee, a co-chairwoman of the group.

One bill dealing with domestic violence would create an automated system to notify domestic violence victims that their abuser is being released from prison. State Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-50th (Kailua, Mokapu) said the bill is important because it would allow a victim to take steps to "make sure she is going to be safe."

Thielen cited cases on the Mainland in which abusers were released from prison and harmed, or even killed, their previous victim.

"That to me seems like an automatic thing we should do," she said.

Other bills the caucus supports include: making choking in domestic violence cases a felony, banning smoking in public places, a foster children's bill of rights, a public school sex assault education program and a proposal to allow mothers to keep their placenta in accordance with Hawaiian or other cultural or religious practices.

There is also a bill that mimics an ordinance enacted by the City and County of Honolulu last year that makes more restrooms available for women.

Like many legislators, caucus members hope that the state's $574 million surplus will mean that many of the bills that have failed in the past will pass this time.

"This is the year of hope and optimism," said state Sen. Suzanne Chun-Oakland, D-13th (Kalihi, Nu'uanu). "We do have additional resources that we can use to restore services that we've had to cut over the decade or to expand services or create new services."

Sharon Ferguson-Quick, executive director of the state Commission on the Status of Women and a supporter of the caucus, said she also is hopeful that a surplus spells good news for women's legislation.

"I really feel this year there is an opportunity to make a difference," she said.

Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.