State Rep. Gene Ward insists there is nothing unconstitutional about a map he published identifying locations of suspected homeless people in his East Honolulu district, but Ward nevertheless has asked the state attorney general for a legal opinion.
However, the Attorney General’s Office, citing client confidentiality, said it will not disclose its pending opinion on whether the map passes constitutional muster.
Josh Wisch, spokesman for state Attorney General Doug Chin, said Tuesday his office received a written request from Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Queen’s Gate-Hawaii Kai) on the issue and “will review and provide a confidential response.”
Wisch said the attorney general receives “client” requests “all the time, and that includes legislators.”
The map that Ward published in November identifies 11 suspected homeless hot spots from Sandy Beach to Hahaione.
It describes a man at China Walls as a meth addict “Whose Mother Has Restraining Order Against Him,” and describes a “Mentally Ill Homeless Man (who) Frequently Screams at People” at Hawaii Kai Towne Center.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and the Washington, D.C.-based National Law Center on Homeless &Poverty told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the map could be unconstitutional.
In his December newsletter Ward remained defiant.
Let “me assure you that there is nothing unconstitutional about the homeless map published in my November Newsletter, particularly because no specific names were given of homeless people,” Ward wrote. “Also, the map identified illegal encampments and illegal activity. There is nothing unconstitutional about a map identifying the location of illegal activity. If that were so, the HPD crime map would be unconstitutional. So, the constitutional concerns raised are rather spurious, nonetheless, I have written a letter to the Attorney General asking for a legal opinion regarding the map of the homeless encampments on the front page of my November 2016 Newsletter which was sent to my 15,000 Hawaii Kai constituents.”
In his letter to Chin, Ward wrote:
“My purpose in writing you is to get a legal opinion on what the newspaper and some quoted legal experts and federal housing authorities are suggesting that by publishing a map where homeless camps are known to exist, may in affect be unconstitutional or a type of invasion of privacy. Our newsletter never listed a person’s name or photo, only the locations where they were encamped. …
“In particular, I request that you state what laws suggest that I cannot publish the aforementioned map of my community, and by what law, this can be considered unconstitutional or profiling when it is done to protect the public. No names or faces have ever been collected in our efforts in Hawaii Kai, and our Homeless Task Force has attempted to assist with social services to over 2 dozen persons so far, but all to no avail since all have refused our services, even transportation of their goods to a shelter in town.”