Proposed bill would make family child abuse a felony

HONOLULU — Kauai representatives have introduced a bill that seeks a stricter sentence for people found guilty of family abuse of keiki.

House Bill 476, which was introduced by Representatives Jimmy Tokioka, Dee Morikawa and Nadine Nakamura, proposes making family abuse on a child younger than 14 a felony.

Specifically, the bill would make the offense a class C felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

“It clarifies that it is also a felony and not a misdemeanor to abuse a minor,” said Morikawa, (D-Niihau, Koloa and Waimea). “This legislation will not affect parental discipline defense in Hawaii which allows parents to reasonably impose physical discipline on their children.”

The bill also seeks the same punishment for someone who engages in physical abuse in front of a child younger than 14.

“The reason for introducing this bill was to help the prosecutor’s office do their job — to put people who harm family members, especially in their formative years, away,” said Tokioka (D-Wailua, Hanamaulu, Lihue, Koloa, Omao).

One of the reasons why Justin Kollar, prosecuting attorney for the County of Kauai, submitted the bill to the state Legislature was to protect families who are victims of family abuse.

“It would simply give us another tool in our toolbox to protect abused children and help break the cycle of family violence on Kauai,” Kollar said. “We thank Reps. Tokioka, Morikawa, Nakamura and Nishimoto for introducing this bill.”

The bill was introduced to the House of Representatives on Jan. 20. It was passed at first reading three days later and was referred to the the judiciary committee.

“It was important for us to get this bill moved along and have it pass,” Tokioka said.

Moving forward, Morikawa hopes the state Legislature will work closely with Kollar to tighten the laws regarding abuse on minors.

“We can close the gaps and clarify laws better,” she said.

Currently, family abuse on a child is misdemeanor charge, which is punishable by up to one year in jail.

“Abusers don’t learn to abuse overnight and don’t unlearn overnight; the longer period of court supervision mandated by a felony conviction would help ensure that families are protected,” Kollar said.

While instances of family abuse on a child is low on the Garden Isle, cases involving children are taken seriously, Kollar said.

“Fortunately the number tends to be on the lower side, but when children are concerned, even one abuse case is too many,” he said.

HB 476, which was also introduced by Representative Scott Nishimoto (D-Kapahulu, McCully, Moiliili), is expected to be discussed today during the judiciary committee meeting.

The Senate is expected to discuss the bill in March. The House of Representatives and Senate will meet in April to discuss the bill together.

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