By TREENA SHAPIRO
HONOLULU — Rowdy objections at the Hawaii Capitol could land critics in jail if a proposal moving through the state House becomes law. The measure’s sponsor insists it’s not aimed at anyone in particular — but the proposal, which would ban “disorderly, contemptuous behavior” has come to be known as the “Stop Mitch Kahle” bill.
Such disruptions are rare, but Kahle was removed from a Senate session two years ago after vocally protesting a prayer, and he’s convinced the new legislation is aimed his way. “I think this is much ado about nothing,” said Kahle, who was arrested in the incident but found not guilty. “Except, I think it’s much directed at me.”
Democratic House Speaker Calvin Say, who introduced the bill, disputes that, saying in a recent statement the proposal “applies to the disruption caused by any person, no matter the person’s reason for the disruption or viewpoint on any issue.”
Skeptics contend the law is unnecessary, saying troublemakers can be removed and jailed under current law — and that the penalty is stiffer than what the new proposal calls for. If passed, disorderly, contemptuous behavior could get a member of the public removed from a hearing, fined, or even sent to jail for 10 days. The current maximum penalty for a petty misdemeanor is 30 days in jail.
The plan had only one public supporter at a recent hearing: state House Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Kuroda, who has never had to remove anyone from legislative proceedings. The attorney general’s office has raised concerns about what it describes as “vague and subjective” language in the bill.
“For example,” wrote Attorney General David Louie, “if by ‘disorderly and contemptuous’ the bill would penalize heckling and booing, but would not penalize cheering an applauding, then a content-based restriction may be created.” Such application would render the plan unconstitutional, Louie said.
The bill cleared the House in time to make today’s crossover deadline, when both chambers must exchange their priority measures. But Kahle, a well-known civil rights activist, has made it clear that if this becomes a law, he’ll challenge it. “If they want to play ball, I like to play ball. They’re just inviting people like me to challenge it.”