- Associated Press - Thursday, April 6, 2017

HONOLULU (AP) - The Hawaii House of Representatives approved a bill to make it a crime to trespass on all state lands despite concerns it could harm homeless people, cultural practitioners, protesters and hikers.

Critics said the bill passed Thursday could criminalize homelessness, making it harder for people to get back on their feet if they have a criminal record.

Violators could be arrested for a petty misdemeanor under the bill proposed by Gov. David Ige.

“Currently there are huge encampments on state lands,” said House Minority Leader Andria Tupola, who voted for the bill with reservations. “My concern is that if it is that we’re trying to clear out state lands, is there a place for these people to go? Because if that’s the case, if we have a solution for that, then great. But otherwise we could be increasing our prison population.”

But the goal of the bill is to combat theft and arson on state property, not to target homeless people, said state homelessness coordinator Scott Morishige. The state wants to ensure that homeless people wouldn’t be penalized and would warn them they’re on restricted property and offer to help them before enforcing the law, he said.

“Our practical experience has been that when we provide people with this type of notice, they do comply with the law and they’re able to either leave the property or in some cases they connect with our outreach people to get them into shelter,” Morishige said.

Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners also opposed the bill as it moved through committees, saying there are important natural and cultural resources found on state lands. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs said it could have a chilling effect on practicing constitutionally protected Native Hawaiian traditions.

Others worried about people getting arrested for demonstrations such as those that were held atop Mauna Kea to protest construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, which was proposed on land held sacred by some Native Hawaiians.

“I believe this is something that can be used to intimidate people against protest,” said state Sen. Russell Ruderman, a Big Island Democrat who voted against the bill in the Senate. “I’m on the side of our right to gather and express our concerns.”

Rep. Matt LoPresti opposed the bill saying he was concerned about hikers, campers and naturalists.

“The intent I don’t think is to prevent people from enjoying nature, but I feel the way it is written that could really be the effect,” LoPresti said.

The bill now goes back to the Senate where lawmakers will vote on changes made in the House.

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