UPDATE: Bills 51 and 52 passed the Honolulu City Council on a 6-3 vote. The additional requirements added by the City Council were not removed from the bills.
The Honolulu City Council is meeting to for a final on vote on two bills submitted by Mayor Kirk Caldwell that could have a significant impact on Honolulu’s homeless policy. Bill 51 would make it illegal to obstruct a public sidewalk. Bill 52 would make it illegal to establish lodging in public spaces like parks.
The two measures would be a major escalation in the City’s effort to address Honolulu’s persistent homeless challenge. Mayor Caldwell made his final pitch outside a sidewalk camp near A’ala Park.
If passed the Mayor will sign the bills into law. But there may be a speedbump. City Councilmembers have inserted language that would delay the enforcement of the new laws by requiring 9 regional studies on their impacts. Mayor Caldwell opposes that requirement.
Ross Sasamura – City Director of Facility Maintenance – said that the sidewalk obstruction law is not just targeting the homeless. He cited street vendors in Waikiki illegally operating mobile kiosks as an example of the type of activity that the sidewalk bill could help address.
Bill 52, the ban on lodging in public places, has generated more opposition. Homeless advocates have decried the measure as criminalizing homelessness. And a similar law in Boise, Idaho was recently struck down in court.
Marc Alexander is the Director of the Mayor’s Office on Housing. He pushed back against that characterization of Bill 52. According to Alexander, the bill is a humanitarian measure desinged to help get people off the street, even if they are chosing not to seek shelter.
Bill 52 has been opposed by the ACLU of Hawaii, who said it would suffer the same fate as Boise’s law. Mayor Caldwell disagrees. As written, the bill would not allow a police officer to issue a citation or arrest a violator if both shelter space and transportation to the shelter are not available. Caldwell said he was confident that Bill 52 would be upheld if challenged in court.
Both Bills 51 and 52 passed their previous City Council vote by a wide margin.