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Hawaii State Legislature passes police reform bill

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Both houses of the state Legislature passed a police reform bill today that would require county police departments to disclose to lawmakers the identity of an officer upon his or her suspension or discharge.

The bill comes on the heels of calls for police reform and protests nationwide and globally against police brutality, police racism and a lack of transparency and accountability in light of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25.

A few dozen State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers and their supporters gathered at the State Capitol rotunda late this morning against the bill objecting to the naming of officers who have been suspended.

SHOPO leaders said the bill would allow an officer who was suspended for as little as a day to be named, saying it violates their due process rights provided by the County Civil Service Rules and the Collective Bargaining Agreement with all Hawaii counties.

House Bill 285 HD1, SD2, CD1 passed final reading in the Senate with 20 in favor and four no votes. In the House, 14 of the 51 House members voted against the bill.

State Rep. Sharon Har, (D, Kapolei-Makakilo), said cited arguments made by SHOPO that the measure would expose the names of police officers who are accused of misconduct before they are allowed due process, which includes the right to grievance hearings on their suspensions or firings.

“It adjudicates someone guilty before they’re actually found guilty,” said Har, who voted against the measure.

But House Judiciary Chairman Chris Lee said the bill would reverse a decision made 25 years ago to withhold the names of officers even after they have exhausted their grievance rights.

Instead, the county police chiefs have been required to file reports with the state Legislature each year that describe some of the misconducts that led to suspensions and terminations, but do not include the names of the officers involved.

“For 25 years in Hawaii we have, as a state, erred on the side of secrecy with respect to some misconduct records,” said Lee.

The names of other public employees who are disciplined or fired already become public record after the grievance process has been exhausted.

Lee also reminded his colleagues that the bill was not a knee-jerk reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement or the death of George Floyd. HB 285 was introduced last year and held over to this year at the Legislature, and similar bills have been repeatedly introduced “for many many years before that,” Lee said.

The bill amends the Uniform Information Practices Act to allow for public access to information about suspended officers.

The bill authorizes the law enforcement standards board to revoke certifications and requires the board to review and recommend statewide policies and procedures relating to law enforcement, including the use of force.

It allows the law enforcement standards board until Dec. 31, 2021, to finalize its standards and certification process.

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