HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the 2019 legislature nears it’s halfway point this week, more than a thousand bills have cleared an important hurdle and are advancing at the State Capitol.
The crossover deadline for bills is this Thursday.
After efforts to legalize recreational marijuana fell through, all eyes are now on a proposal that would decriminalize the possession of three grams or less of the drug.
"We wanted to make a clear break between dealers and folks who are distributing drugs and keep criminal penalties there," said State Rep. Chris Lee, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. "Not put people in jail who just happen to have a joint. They end up with a bunch of hardened criminals and end up adding to our crime problem."
Instead of criminal penalties, those who are found with this small amount of pot would instead be fined $200.
"We instead charge people a fine so that they have an opportunity at continuing work and education without a black mark on their permanent record," Lee said.
But House Minority Leader State Rep. Gene Ward says the proposal is basically a platform for legalization.
He says the bill's supporters aren't considering the unintended consequences.
"It's a gateway (drug). There's enough suicide and dysphoria in our youth, and adding another drug on top of it, which they're already accessing, just to legitimize it, is penny wise and pound foolish," said Ward.
The decriminalization bill is up for a vote on Thursday.
The controversial ban on single-use plastics, SB522, also passed its third reading, crossing over to the house.
That proposal experienced heavy push back from local restaurants and businesses who say compostable containers are too expensive, and will drive up costs for consumers.
There's also a push to establish an independent commission that would oversee the state's prisons and jails.
After concerns about mismanagement of Hawaii’s facilities, overcrowding issues, and recent incidents, including last week’s fatal shooting of an Oahu Community Correctional Center inmate who was trying to escape, supporters say this is long overdue.
"I have to say I've never seen the (public safety) department in this much disarray," said Kat Brady, coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons. "Generally the people who call me are people who are inside (the prison) or their families. Not so much lately. It's been staff members."
The bill passed the House and is now with the Senate for consideration.
State Sen. Clarence Nishihara, who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee, says it's clear Hawaii's correctional system needs correcting.
“You don’t want an institution that has made mistakes be the one looking over the mistakes they made, and try to wash them over,” said Nishihara. “So that’s why you want an outside set of eyes looking at it.”