The 2023 Hawaii state legislative session is well underway and as usual, we are busy tackling issues relating to abortion access, suicide prevention, keiki, affordable housing, economic justice, immigration, mental health, and the safety and well-being of our kupuna. All these issues are major priorities for the Hawaii Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Diocese of Honolulu.
The Hawaii State Legislature has been very supportive of abortion “rights” and promised to pass legislation to expand abortion services even before the session started. A bill that recently passed adds physician-assistants to the list of people who can perform abortions, removes restrictions to where abortions can be performed, and adds protections to doctors who perform abortions in the state. Contrary to what many may think, 14- and-15-year-olds already have access to abortion services in Hawaii without parental consent. Another bill would enshrine “reproductive freedom” into the Hawaii State Constitution.
Two sides to suicide
Two bills on suicide are also moving: One, which we support, makes permanent the Prevent Suicide Hawaii Task Force within the Department of Health and focuses on reducing the suicide rate among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. The other bill, which we oppose, adds advanced practice registered nurses to the list of providers who can administer aid-in-dying. The worst part of this bill is that it waives the mandatory waiting period for terminally ill qualified patients who are not expected to survive the mandatory waiting period.
The safety and well-being of children and youth will always be a priority of the Hawaii Catholic Conference. Efforts include a statewide prevention program in the Attorney General’s Office to provide services to commercially exploited children and victims of human trafficking. There are also efforts to establish the infant and early childhood mental health program within the Department of Health to provide and coordinate mental health services for children from birth to age 5.
As usual, Catholic Charities Hawaii is working hard on issues of homelessness and affordable housing. Efforts include the creation of more affordable rental units by raising the conveyance tax and continued funding of the Rental Housing Revolving Fund. Support is ongoing for the funding of construction, rental subsidies and services for permanent supportive housing which includes funding core homeless programs, housing first, family assessment centers, rapid rehousing, and civil legal services.
Other efforts include supporting a state child tax credit, tax credits for low-income renters, establishment and funding for a pre-litigation mediation pilot program and supporting funding for an Immigrant Services and Access Unit within the Office of Community Services.
Childhood sexual abuse
Every year the legislature introduces bills to expand the period by which a civil action for childhood sexual abuse may be initiated but although it passed the Senate, it was not heard in the House. There is also a bill to remove the exemption for clergy from mandatory reporting whenever a clergy member believes that child abuse or neglect manifesting exceptional depravity, especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, is at least reasonably likely to occur in the near future. The church supports mandatory reporting except in situations that would violate the sacred seal of Confession.
Finally, we opposed the attempt to legalize recreational marijuana. Although the bill had strong support in the Senate, members in the House chose not to hear the bill so it is dead this session. We expect that this issue will be back in the 2024 legislative session.
In several hearings, one commenter used their testimony to state that the religious community in Hawaii only cares about stopping bad bills. However, if you look at all the great work being done by Catholic Charities Hawaii, HOPE Services, and St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawaii, you will note that much of our efforts are to ensure necessary funding for all the great ministry services the Catholic Church provides in the state.
Eva Andrade is the director of the Hawaii Catholic Conference.