Bill Will Compromise Civil Liberties
by Lisa Davidson, Senate Minority Blog, April 21, 2014
What will happen to our rights if a State of Emergency is declared?
Despite a long list of good intentions and numerous supporters, House Bill 849 is a dangerous bill. Darryl Oliveira, Director of the County of Hawaii’s Civil Defense Agency, presented testimony in support, arguing that the bill will provide more power to the counties and clarify the powers of the Governor and Mayors, “simplify the law by placing all emergency management authorities in one chapter of the HRS, and establish the Emergency Specialist Reserve Corps (ESRC), “a low-cost surge staff to assist state and local government during emergencies … recruited from community members … fully trained and ready to respond during a disaster.”
The Chair of Maui’s County Council, Gladys C. Baisa, added her support, mentioning that “During a time of crisis, no other level of government has better access to critical real-time information than the county … The proposed measure will provide the mayors specific, important powers.” Also, “Civil Defense” is updated to the more contemporary “Emergency Management.” (“Out of the 54 states and territories, only Hawaii uses ‘civil defense…’”) William F. Anonsen, Chair of the Civil Defense Advisory Council, pointed out that the new bill updates HRS 127 (Disaster Relief) and HRS 128 (Disaster Emergency Act), which are actually over 60 years old … “written primarily to deal with Post World War II-Cold War nuclear attack threats and civil unrest.” Also, Hawaii’s population then was less than half of what it is today. Anonsen added, “Emergency Management is a top priority for the State of Hawaii, given our isolation and vulnerability to a myriad of potential threats both natural and man-made.”
The dangers inherent in the bill are the overly broad definitions of emergency powers. Elaine Dunbar of Lihue defined these as “sweeping powers … if it becomes law it can present seriously harmful repercussions with no recourse to undo in the likely event it is abused.” Her father was a JAG Officer with the Pentagon, her mother a WAVE and Executive Secretary for a U.S. Congressman, and her brother a former Navy SEAL. She remarked that “They did not serve the U.S. government to live to see these types of acts with the potential for so much harm and annihilation of their children’s rights nor those of any others’ children.” She added, “I sincerely believe there are far too many dangerous sections in the bill that need to have closer scrutiny. It is a long draft and maybe there has not been enough time for legislators to give it the attention it requires.” She commented also that the “Preliminary or interlocutory injunctions and temporary restraining orders” should read “Injunctive relief.” Her closing quote: “There are sections in this that have nothing to do with emergencies or national disasters and are simply power grabs. Legislation this broad needs more time. Please defer.”
Edward T. Teixeira, the former vice director of civil defense, strongly opposes the bill, calling it a “rushed and desperate attempt to reform the state civil defense system by a name change … There are other parts of the proposed bill that address many other critical functions and responsibilities, which should be studied carefully. Passing this bill out of your committee without a thorough review by your committees will be a disservice to the people of the State.”
Specifically, civil liberties may not be observed if an emergency is declared; compulsory immunizations and quarantines can be required; personal property can be “redistributed;” electronic media transmissions can be suspended; even county laws can be suspended. If someone is accused of “hoarding,” all emergency supplies may be taken by the government. The governor can declare any person, place, or situation a “public nuisance,” authorizing entry to private property without the owner’s permission. Any members of the military or National Guard who are called to assist civil authorities “engaged in emergency functions” can’t be held responsible, criminally or civilly for damage caused “in pursuance of duty …” The public right to gather may be restricted. Forced evacuations are permitted. “The governor or mayor shall be the sole judge” of any danger that would constitute a state of emergency. And during a state of emergency, the governor or mayor can take over any private property they choose to requisition; if the owner is unwilling to accept the compensation value offered, that person will be penalized by a 25% reduction in the compensation amount. If any person violates any emergency rule, they will be fined not more than $5,000, imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.
Then there is an extensive section defining theft and property crimes. Theoretically a hungry person who picks a mango from someone else’s tree can be accused of criminal property damage in the first degree. This section seems to favor the wealthy and persons with extensive property.
Hawaii residents can only hope that some of these issues will be edited and clarified in conference committee, as the resulting chaos could be catastrophic.