Should the voting age be lowered? Proposal is among package of bills introduced by Keiki Caucus

  • SAN BUENAVENTURA

  • WILDBERGER

Young people in Hawaii want a lower voting age and equity for the homeless, according to a suite of bills drafted based on youth input.

A Wednesday presentation by the state Legislature’s Hawaii Keiki Caucus discussed 20 bills and resolutions that were devised after lawmakers discussed with children and teenagers what issues are important to them.

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Of the bills presented, one of the most bold would lower the statewide voting age to 16.

Dyson Chee, an 18-year-old student, advocated for a pair of bills — House Bill 449 and Senate Bill 824 — which would, if passed, amend the state constitution to lower the qualifying age to vote in state or local elections to 16 years old from the current 18.

“When youth begin to learn about the founding of the U.S.A, one of the very first things we’re taught is the ideal of ‘no taxation without representation,’” Chee said during a livestreamed press conference Wednesday. “Yet, those very same 16- and 17-year-olds, who can drive, work and be taxed, have no electoral say over the very government officials who use their taxpayer money.”

The lowest statewide voting age in the country is 17, which has been adopted by 17 different states. However, Chee said countries such as Austria and Scotland, as well as the city of Takoma Park, Md. — all of which have a voting age of 16 — have found the lower voting age “beneficial to the democratic process.”

Another student, Elise Barthel, spoke in support of a pair of resolutions calling for a new tax to be imposed on non-Hawaii residents buying property in the state, with the revenues generated by the tax used to support the expansion of housing programs for the state’s homeless population.

The homeless resolutions — House Concurrent Resolution 7 and House Resolution 8 — were drafted based on concerns raised during the 27th Children and Youth Summit last year.

Another bill, presented by Rep. Tina Wildberger, D-Maui, would make it impossible for family courts to consider claims of Parental Alienation Syndrome in child custody cases. Parental Alienation Syndrome is a purported to be disorder wherein a child develops hostility or fear toward one parent because of psychological manipulation from the other.

While the disorder has been cited in some family cases throughout the country, it is not included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and is generally not taken seriously by health experts.

Wildberger called the supposed disorder “discredited junk science.”

Other measures presented by the Keiki Caucus include a bill that would allow 16-year-olds to petition the Family Courts to be legally emancipated from their parents — currently, the only way to do so is through marriage, said Sen. Joy San Buenaventura, D-Puna.

Two other resolutions are part of the Keiki Caucus’ legislation: one calling for the state Department of Education to elevate ‘Olelo Hawaii language classes throughout the state and one urging the DOT to develop after-school programs to combat COVID-19-related learning loss and more.

San Buenaventura, who co-convened the Keiki Caucus, acknowledged after the presentation that the colossal budgetary shortfall faced by the state after the COVID-19 pandemic likely will doom many or even all of the caucus’ measures this year, but added that they will at least “start the conversation.”

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In addition, she noted that, as 2021 is the start of a new biennium, if the bills fail this year, they can easily be resurrected next year.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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