EXCLUSIVE: Capitol hours may be reduced, partly due to homeless

EXCLUSIVE: Capitol hours may be reduced, partly due to homeless
Published: Mar. 25, 2015 at 8:16 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 25, 2015 at 10:54 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some state lawmakers want the State Capitol to reduce the hours its open to the public to increase security since homeless people are entering the building early in the morning and late at night.

Several longtime state lawmakers were surprised to learn that the State Capitol is officially open to the public from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily, even when there are no public events going on.

That means the elevators keep operating long past the 4:30 p.m. closing time of other state offices.

"10 p.m. does seem to be a bit late to have it open on a weekday, especially if nothing is happening," said State Senate Public Safety Chairman Will Espero, who suggested that the Capitol should reduce its hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Other lawmakers said the idea is worth discussing.

"The State Capitol is a very open building. It was designed to be open and accessible. At the same time, we need to balance security concerns with that," said State Rep. Scott Saiki, the majority leader in the State House.

House Sergeant at Arms Kevin Kuroda said some House members and legislative staffers have suggested closing the State Capitol at night.

"If there's nothing going on, the sheriffs open the building and there's nothing going on so if there's nothing going on, the suggestion is to keep the building closed," Kuroda said.

People who work at the Capitol said homeless people are increasingly entering the building in the early morning and at night.

Homeless have been discovered bathing and washing clothes in Capitol restrooms, littering and asking for free food and coffee from lawmakers, sources said.

"We need to be cognizant of the safety of not just the legislators and the public but the staff that work here sometimes until very late or early morning hours," said Shawn Tsuha, who oversees the state sheriff division as deputy director for law enforcement in the Department of Public Safety.

Tsuha said his deputies respond to more calls about the homeless than anything or anyone else in and around the Capitol.

Sheriff deputies responded to 226 calls dealing with the homeless in January and 386 homeless calls in February in the several-block area surrounding the Capitol, known as the civic center.

"They (the deputies) are doing quite a bit of liaison and work with the homeless in the civic center complex, not just at the Capitol building," Tsuha said.

Meanwhile, the state has spent $100,000 installing new fingerprint readers at the Capitol for employees to gain access after hours. They are the first of their kind in the state to read the capillary pattern under fingerprint surfaces.

The new technology was chosen for two reasons, according to Patrick O'Brien, CEO of Security Resources Pacific, the company hired to install the fingerprint system.

"One was the security of the system, so somebody can't basically circumvent a fingerprint read. And second of all, approximately one percent of the population doesn't have a readable fingerprint," O'Brien said.

He said the system can be expanded to other state buildings.

The fingerprint reading system is in the "test operational" phase, with more than 307 State House members and staff as well as 75 Senators and staff enrolled so far, and counting, officials said.

The state is paying Security Resources Pacific $50,000 a year to maintain the fingerprint reading system as well as a video surveillance system with dozens of security cameras at the Capitol.

The idea to limit the hours at the State Capitol is still under discussion by the State Capitol Management Committee, a panel made up of staff and lawmakers. The panel has asked Tsuha for suggestions about the best hours for the building based on deputy sheriff shifts.

Lawmakers said even if they cut back on when the Capitol is open to the public, it will always open for any public events such as hearings, conferences and other legislative activity.

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