HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A bill that would define specific rights for anyone who is homeless -- including access to housing, jobs, shelters and equal treatment by government agencies has advanced through several committees and is now headed for a vote by the full Senate.
The legislation is called the "Houseless or Homeless Bill of Rights".
Lawmakers say Senate Bill 1014 is intended to ensure homeless people aren't denied basic privileges or public services specifically because they don't have a home.
Among the rights it aims to protect are: the ability to register and vote, the freedom to sleep in a legally parked car and 24-hour access to hygiene facilities anywhere within the state.
"A bill like this would prevent someone that has already been so marginalized to be further penalized," said Beatriz Cantelmo, who was once homeless
Homeless advocates say the bill will hopefully generate much-needed dialogue and address an important question.
"Are some of things that we're doing such as criminalizing homeless really helping us in ending homelessness?" asked the state's homeless coordinator Colin Kippen. "I think it will elevate this conversation and it will make it clear that we have certain expectations about how people will be protected if they find themselves homeless."
Legislators who voted against the measure say they're worried is creates unnecessary legal action.
"It gives people the right to sue other people when they don't get their way or they don't get special treatment. Look, we have a big problem with homeless -- we have not addressed it, we have to do that -- but as far as rights, let's enforce and let's honor the rights that every citizen has right now without creating more of a litigious society," said State Senator Sam Slom, who opposed the measure.
California, Colorado, Oregon and Rhode Island all have similar "Homeless Bills of Rights" on the books.
Local lawmakers say Hawai'i's legislation was prompted in part by recent Honolulu laws that have resulted in the seizure of homeless individuals' belongings during enforcement of sidewalk nuisance and stored property ordinances.
"I think that's just tragic. I've heard many stories where they come along and take everything -- not just the tent but their clothing and the kids' school books, so you're taking this person who is already in a difficult position and making their life much, much harder and that can't be right. That can't be what our government should be doing," said State Senator Russell Ruderman, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture and introduced SB 1014. "I understand there are some places that may be inappropriate for houseless people to live, but we can't just discriminate against them and they don't lose all their rights just for being where they are."
Lawmakers say there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered -- including what impact the law would have on existing City and County of Honolulu initiatives, like the sit-lie ban or sidewalk nuisance ordinances. Experts say that will likely be determined in court, depending on what legal challenges are raised.