Gov. David Ige signed five bills into law Wednesday focused on acknowledging and correcting inequality in the state.
The five bills were split between two signing ceremonies, one involving a pair of bills commemorating significant days and months, and the other introducing financial protections for vulnerable people.
The bills were:
Senate Bill 697 designates each January as Kalaupapa Month, in commemoration of the internment of people suffering from Hansen’s disease — also known as leprosy — in Kalaupapa on Molokai.
Patients with Hansen’s disease first arrived in Kalaupapa in January 1866, Ige said, and January is also the birth month of both Jozef De Veuster and Barbara Koob, who were eventually canonized by the Catholic Church as Saint Damien and Saint Marianne, respectively, after they tended to the needs of those interned at Kalaupapa.
“In dedicating January of each year to Kalaupapa month, we hope to inspire the people of Hawaii to remember the estimated 8,000 patients who were sent to Kalaupapa,” Ige said. “And while many of them were separated from their families and sent to Kalaupapa against their will, residents there, despite the odds against them, came together to build a community of caring, respect and aloha for each other and for the broader community.”
The month is not to be construed as a state holiday, according to the bill.
Senate Bill 939 designates June 19 of each year as Juneteenth, in commemoration of the official end of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865.
“With the national events that occurred most recently over the summer, and the George Floyd activity fresh in our collective minds, and a renewed call to address the systemic racism that results in racial injustice and inequality across the country today, it is now more important and timely than ever that Hawaii stand in acknowledgment of the African-American experience in this country,” Ige said.
Samantha Neylund, 2020’s Miss Hawaii USA, said Hawaii has always stood on the forefront of speaking out against racial injustice. Neylund, who started a campaign last year calling for Hawaii to recognize Juneteenth, said that by “forever honors and memorializing Juneteenth, we are helping to move our society forward toward a more vibrant and inclusive Hawaii.”
Hawaii is the 49th state to acknowledge Juneteenth — also called Freedom Day — and the U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to make the date a federal holiday, pending the signature of President Joe Biden.
Under Senate Bill 939, Juneteenth is not to be construed as a state holiday.
House Bill 940 requires people to notify authorities in suspected cases of financial exploitation of elders and other vulnerable adults. It also provides immunity for good-faith reporting of exploitation and authorizes delays to disbursements and transactions in situations of suspected exploitation.
Kealii Lopez, AARP Hawaii director, said the bill gives the state more power to investigate potential cases of abuse.
“Many older adults have worked hard to save money and plan for their future,” Lopez said. “To have someone take advantage of their trust and kindness by exploiting them is something that Hawaii cannot stand for.”
Senate Bill 793 repeals an exemption to the state’s minimum wage requirements that allowed disabled people to be paid less than minimum wage. Under the new law, all disabled people can be guaranteed at least a minimum wage.
“This is a law that … is now outdated, and it’s one of those issues that is very discriminatory,” said Hilo Rep. Richard Onishi. “I’m proud that the Legislature is making efforts in looking at how we eliminate discriminatory measures within our Hawaii Revised Statutes.”
Payday loan reform
House Bill 1192 establishes consumer protections for installment loans — including requiring installment lenders to have licenses — and repeals authorization for payday loans.
The bill mandates limits on installment loan factors such as interest rates, payment schedules and loan sizes in an effort to protect residents from unscrupulous lenders, Ige said.
“(The bill) will benefit both consumers and payday lenders,” Ige said. “Consumers will have a chance to repay small consumer loans in installments they can afford, while payday lenders will see a cleanup of the industry, and those good businesses in our community will be able to operate in a more fair and appropriate manner.”
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.