Women's Legislative Caucus Bills on Workplace Harassment, Domestic Violence Signed into Law
Honolulu, Hawaiʻi – Several critical bills focusing on sexual harassment in the workplace and our growing problem of domestic violence supported by the bipartisan Hawaiʻi Women’s Legislative Caucus (WLC) this session were signed by Governor David Ige and are now state law.
The caucus had presented a larger package of bills at the beginning of the 2020 session which included economic and family concerns, but due to the coronavirus pandemic many important bills were deferred until next year.
When the focus of state lawmakers rightly turned toward containing the pandemic and maintaining the social safety net for a growing number of unemployed residents and those suffering economically, members of the WLC also worked to make sure that important bills relating to domestic violence were passed. The Caucus continues to lay the groundwork for the future of bills affecting women, children and families.
"Our Caucus is proud to begin a groundbreaking 5-year pilot project to determine if early intervention in domestic violence cases can reduce acts of violence against women, increase the safety of women in their own homes, and prevent the tragic, violent deaths of women we’ve seen all too frequently in the past,” said Sen. Laura H. Thielen (District 25, Kailua, Lanikai, Enchanted Lake, Keolu Hills, Maunawili, Waimānalo, Hawai‘i Kai, Portlock). “The Caucus developed this project in partnership with the Judiciary, police, public defenders, prosecutors, and most importantly, service providers and survivors of domestic violence. We are dedicated to monitoring the annual reports and outcomes over the next five years to ensure we are improving outcomes for women and families across out state."
WLC bills signed by the Governor include:
SB 2638 SD2 HD3 (Act 19) helps to ease court congestion of domestic violence cases and ensure consequences for batterers by establishing a petty misdemeanor offense of abuse of family or household members and allowing a deferred acceptance of guilty plea for misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor abuse of family or household members offenses, provided that the defendant completes domestic violence intervention programs. It also makes consistent the types of documents accepted as proof of domestic or sexual violence victim status across various statutes so that a victim does not have to meet different standards.
SB 2638 was placed on Governor Ige’s Intent to Veto list but removed and signed after WLC members and community advocates explained how critical this measure is in protecting the lives of women and children and getting abusers into much needed treatment.
"We are receiving a steady stream of requests for help from victims, who are following the stay-at-home directive. This demand is a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Nanci Kreidman, CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC). "As in past years, we worked closely with the WLC on measures that will help survivors and meet their needs. We appreciate the entire Legislature and the Governor’s support and their recognition of the challenges facing domestic violence victims and their families during these difficult times."
HB 2060 HD1 SD1 (Act 18) provides that family courts may seal any record of a denied TRO or denied protective order, provided that these records shall remain accessible to law enforcement without a court order. Domestic violence perpetrators often file TROs against a victim as a method of retaliation or intimidation. Even though the TRO is ultimately denied, the victim still has it on her record, making it difficult to apply for jobs or housing. This bill would seal those records and help survivors make a new start for themselves.
Although not part of the Women’s Legislative Caucus package, the Caucus also supported HB 2425 HD1 SD1 (Act 20), introduced by Representative David Tarnas (District 7, North Kona, North Kohala, South Kohala), which amends the definition of "domestic abuse" under Hawaiʻi’s insurance laws and restraining order statute to include “coercive control.” Many domestic violence victims experience emotional and psychological abuse even before they are physically abused. This brings the statutory definition closer to the lived experience of victims.
“Domestic violence is a horrific problem in our community, and it has become worse recently with the economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Representative Tarnas. “I want to thank my constituents for educating me about how defining coercive control abuse statutes can help in the reduction of domestic violence.”
In response to the MeToo movement against sexual abuse and sexual harassment, Representative Amy Perruso championed HB 2054 to end the abhorrent practice of requiring some women to sign nondisclosure agreements related to sexual crimes, a progressive measure that only a handful of other states have taken.
HB 2054 HD1 SD1 (Act 17) prohibits an employer from requiring an employee to enter into a nondisclosure agreement related to sexual harassment or assault. The bill also prohibits retaliation against an employee for disclosing sexual harassment or assault. This will help to break the silence that protects perpetrators and keeps victims in the dark.
“Mandatory nondisclosure agreements place all too much power in the hands of employers and abusers, and erode the rights of victims of sexual misconduct,” said Representative Perruso (District 46, Wahiawā, Whitmore Village, Launani Valley). “This law empowers survivors to speak out, so that we can ensure Hawaiʻi’s workplaces are safe from sexual harassment and abuse.”
If you or someone you know needs assistance, help is available 24/7 from the Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC): text to (605) 956-5680 or chat online at www.domesticviolenceactioncenter.org.
The Women’s Legislative Caucus is a bipartisan group of all the female members in the State House and Senate, advocating for women, girls, and families in Hawaiʻi. WLC Co-Conveners for 2019-2020 are Senators Rosalyn H. Baker and Laura H. Thielen and Representatives Lauren Matsumoto and Linda Ichiyama.