Senate committee passes measures to reduce blood alcohol content and increase penalties on vicious dog cases

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The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony Tuesday morning on several measures, including Senate Bill 2384, which would reduce the blood alcohol content level in Hawai‘i from .08 to .05, and SB 2692, which would increase penalties for owners whose dogs attack animals and people.

Both bills passed without opposition from the committee, bringing the measures another step closer to becoming state law.

SB2384 passed unamended with five ayes and one reservation from Hawai‘i Island Sen. Joy San Buenaventura.

If passed into law, Hawai‘i would be the second state in the nation to lower BAC from .08 to .05 behind Utah.

Sara Haley spoke on behalf of the office of the Public Defender who opposed the measure for several reasons. The first is that it will criminalize behavior of responsible drinkers.

“The bill casts too wide a net,” Haley said. “A BAC below .08 can already be prosecuted.”


The public defender’s office is also concerned about how lowering the threshold will overburden the police departments as well as the legal system.

“We would need significantly additional funds for more prosecutors, public defenders and courtrooms,” Haley said. “We are already overburdened with OVUI cases as it is.”

Hawai‘i County prosecuting attorney Kelden Waltjen appeared on Zoom expressing support for the bill.

“This bill isn’t about increasing penal sanctions,” Waltjen said. “What this bill is about is saving lives. Alcohol-related traffic fatalities continue to be a concern across our state. Impaired driving is especially concerning for us on Hawai‘i Island.”

Lowering the BAC to .05 is a simple and effective way to prevent alcohol-related deaths as it will serve as a general deterrent to drinking and driving, Waltjen said.


“It will encourage people to think twice before getting behind the wheel after they’ve had three, four, or even five drinks,” he said. “Getting behind the wheel after drinking is not only irresponsible but selfish.”

SB2692 along with its companion measure, HB2058, has garnered widespread support statewide as concerns over the rise of dangerous dog attacks are leaving people and animals injured and in some cases dead.

The bill passed the committee with amendments 5-0.

The Office of the Public Defender testified against the measure. Haley said there are a number of constitutional issues including due process as well as equal protection issues with this proposed law as written.

“There’s no way for dog owners to challenge the decision or to bring their own evidence,” Haley said.


Shannon Matson has testified on the Senate bill as well as its House bill companion measure expressing her support as she lost her father, Bob Northrop in August 2023 after he was mauled by four dogs in Ocean View.

Charges have yet to be filed against the dog owner, which has been frustrating for Matson’s family.

“Every single county says they can’t prosecute, yet the public defenders’ office is saying this is duplicative,” Matson said. “If it is duplicative, it’s not indicated very well because it’s not serving any of us who are demanding justice for our loved ones.

“The public has certain expectations that the state and county are there to protect our communities when awful things happen. They’re supposed to be systems in place to keep those things from happening again and provide justice to families and victims.”

Additionally, Matson said that the lack of penalties for owners of vicious dogs, it perpetuates a cycle of a lack of accountability.

Coming up on Friday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee will hold a public hearing on the measure addressing the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a full-time reporter for Pacific Media Group. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.

Tiffany can be reached at [email protected].
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