The Senate voted today to reconfirm Nolan Espinda to lead Hawaii’s Department of Public Safety for another four years, rejecting the advice of a Senate committee that earlier this month advised that Espinda’s nomination be rejected.
The Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs, chaired by Sen. Clarence Nishihara, raised a litany of concerns about the Public Safety Department during earlier hearings including a recent riot at the Maui jail, recent fatal shootings of an Oahu jail inmate and a homeless man, the incarceration of prisoners beyond their release dates and an alleged culture of retaliation and intimidation within the department.
“This type of environment cannot and should not be allowed to continue,” said Nishihara today as he told his Senate colleagues why he was opposing Espinda’s confirmation. “What I am saying is the current director is not the right person for leading and managing this large and complex organization.”
The Senate ultimately approved Espinda, however, in a 17 to 8 vote, as Espinda, with Gov. David Ige sitting by his side, watched from the gallery.
Several senators rose on the floor to say that while they had concerns about recent events, they felt Espinda was committed to making reforms.
Sen. Kurt Fevella, the lone Republican in the Senate, said that the Maui riot was bound to happen, whether Espinda was the director or not. He noted that the severely overcrowded conditions in the state’s jails have persisted for years. Fevella said that part of the blame rests with the Legislature for not providing enough financial support to the corrections system.
The Senate also unanimously voted today to reconfirm Suzanne Case as director and Robert Masuda as deputy director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.