HONOLULU — A bill seeking harsher punishments for people found guilty of child abuse has passed the House and will continue to the Senate.
On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed, on third reading, House Bill 476, which will make abuse on a family member younger than 14 a class C felony. A class C felony is punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
“We are happy to see this moving through the process and grateful for the support of our Kauai legislative delegation,” said Justin Kollar, Kauai prosecuting attorney.
Currently, family abuse on a child is misdemeanor charge, which is punishable by up to one year in jail.
The bill was introduced by Kauai Reps. Jimmy Tokioka, Dee Morikawa and Nadine Nakamura, along with Rep. Scott Nishimoto, (D-21, Kapahulu, McCully, Moiliili).
Kollar asked the representatives to submit the measure, saying it would be another tool to protect families who are victims of family abuse.
“Several years ago the Legislature made it a class C felony to abuse a family or household member in the presence of a minor, a move our office strongly supported. Since then, community stakeholders on Kauai have observed that the law does not extend to situations where the victim is a minor,” Kollar wrote in his testimony in support of the bill. “This measure would close this puka in the current statute.”
Tokioka, (D-14, Wailua, Hanamaulu, Lihue, Koloa, Omao) and Morikawa, (D-16, Niihau, Koloa and Waimea) said they supported the bill to help the attorneys at prosecutor’s office do their job.
“This bill is our Kauai Prosecutor’s effort to close the hole,” Morikawa said.
The State of Hawaii Office of the Public Defender does not support the measure, according to the testimony file on the Capitol’s website.
In its’ testimony, the office cited higher bail, increased pretrial jail-time and the judge’s power to impose a longer sentence on people convicted of child abuse.
The testimony reads: “Family Court judges are aware of the impact that domestic violence has on children, and take that fact into account in their disposition of the cases before them. We believe the courts should be allowed to exercise its discretion to treat each case individually, in the best interest of the family unit.”
The House of Representatives and the Senate will meet in April to discuss the bill together.