Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed into law today two bills that would ban obstructing and “lodging” on Oahu sidewalks.
Caldwell and supporters say the new laws are designed to keep sidewalks clear for pedestrians, but opponents argue that their main goal is to punish the homeless for not having a roof over their heads.
The American Civil Liberties Union Hawaii chapter has warned repeatedly that the bills are unconstitutional, suggesting that they may mount a legal challenge to block them from being enforced.
Both proposals were approved by the Honolulu City Council 6-3 on Oct. 3, with Ikaika Anderson, Brandon Elefante and Joey Manahan voting “no.”
Bill 51 makes it illegal between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. to “create, cause or maintain” an obstruction on a public sidewalk if it blocks pedestrians from passing freely. The measure applies to anyone who obstructs the sidewalk, including vendors who operate mobile kiosks. Violators could be subject to fines of up to $100.
Bill 52 makes it a petty misdemeanor “to lodge” on a sidewalk or other public places. It defines “to lodge” as “to occupy a place temporarily; to sleep; to come to rest and refuse to vacate” a public place. A police officer issuing a citation must first verify there is shelter space available within a reasonable distance and then offer to take the person being cited to the shelter.
Caldwell had raised concerns with a stipulation inserted into both bills by Council members requiring that his administration first submit a report updating them on the city’s initiatives to combat homelessness, and then have the Council approve the report, before enforcement of the new laws can take effect.
Caldwell said even when his Department of Community Services submits the report — which is expected to occur in the coming days — it will take time for the Council to approve it via resolution, delaying implementation of the new laws.