East Hawaii News

Lawmakers Looking at New Enforcement Tools for DLNR

February 12, 2014, 12:01 PM HST
* Updated February 12, 12:03 PM
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After an effort to expand its enforcement powers failed last year, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources is taking a new approach during this legislative session.

But the latest effort is raising additional concerns.

The DLNR supported a bill in the 2013 Legislature that would have removed the felony requirement for government seizure of land and other property.

Senate Bill 1342, which was criticized by Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth because it would extend forfeiture actions to petty misdemeanors, died in committee.

At the time, DLNR Chairman William Aila Jr. testified that the bill would give his department a tool to use against those who frequently violate laws protecting natural, historical and cultural resources.

Those laws usually involve only a misdemeanor or petty misdemeanor offense, Aila said, which the DLNR felt was not a sufficient deterrent to prevent repeat offenses.

The current penalties include civil fines of up to $4,000 for repeat offenders for some violations, as well as restoration of land to its original condition and payment of administrative costs. More serious offenses can draw fines of $5,000 for first offenses and up to $10,000 for subsequent offenses.

Last month, the Board of Land and Natural Resources authorized the DLNR to assess a $2,500 civil fine against a Captain Cook man for violating rules involving commercial activities at Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park.

This session, the DLNR is backing Senate Bill 1170, which would give the agency the ability to impose additional types of penalties for violations of state law pertaining to resource protection.

They would include ordering violators to perform community service and denying them the ability to register their motor vehicles.

The latter penalty was inserted into the bill last year by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The bill was originally introduced at Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s request during the 2013 session, but was eventually tabled.

Brought back up during the current session, it was approved Jan. 30 by the House Judiciary Committee and then referred to the House Finance Committee.

But members of the Judiciary Committee said the imposition of community service administratively, instead of in a judicial setting, could violate the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution which deals with involuntary servitude.

Also, members of two different House committees last year said they had “grave concerns” about denial of motor vehicle registration “without the safeguards afforded by the judicial process.”

The Judiciary Committee last month amended the bill’s wording to say the counties “may” rather than “shall” deny vehicle registrations at the request of the land board.

In a recently issued report, the Judicary Committee requested that the House Finance Committee study the constitutional issue further if it chooses to take up the bill.

As of today, no hearing before the Finance Committee had been scheduled.

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