Aloha folks, I hope you have been taking care and keeping safe during these unprecedented times. The 2020 legislative session was, by far, one of the most interesting and eventful sessions we have experienced. Before we close the door on 2020, I thought it appropriate to highlight some hard-won civil rights victories from 2020. We are proud to say that four priority bills, including two that were highlighted in the ACLU of Hawaii’s 2020 Legislative Agenda are now law.

First and foremost, the ACLU of Hawai‘i staff would like to extend a sincerely mahalo nui loa to those who made their voice heard in the legislative process. Whether you made phone calls, shared our posts on social media, submitted written testimony, lobbied during committee hearings, or met with legislators at a distance, mahalo from the bottom of our hearts. Together, we effected change in education justice, police accountability, and criminal law reform—all of which required strong champions in the community and at the Legislature to successfully challenge the status quo.

In March, many of you joined us for the ACLU of Hawaii’s People Not Prisons Lobby Day at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol. Residents from all over the state came together to ask lawmakers to invest in people, not prisons. We held advocacy training, testimony drafting, and legislative visits. It was a busy day as folks met with legislators to tell their stories about how the criminal legal system impacts them and their communities. Many of those who joined us on this day were not only first-time lobbyists but also first-time visitors of the State Capitol and the island of Oʻahu.

The following week, Hawai‘i lawmakers recessed the legislative session for 8 weeks due to COVID-19 concerns before reconvening, recessing, and reconvening again until adjournment on July 10, 2020. Nonetheless, together we remained diligent in standing up for civil rights.

Your advocacy was instrumental in the following victories:

S.B. 2486 (Act 76) requires the State Department of Education to collect, analyze, and disclose important civil rights data relating to student discipline, the use of seclusion and restraint, school climate, and student achievement. This bill ensures more accurate data reporting so that parents, advocates, and legislators can identify and advance policies to make our schools a safer and more equitable environment for our keiki.

H.B. 2750 (Act 59) ends harmful and counterproductive traffic “stoppers,” which are administrative holds imposed on the driving and car registration records of those who cannot pay their traffic infractions. This means a person who cannot afford their ticket is barred from renewing their driver’s license or registration, which may impact their ability to get to work, take their kids to school or the doctor, or to obtain insurance.

S.B. 2193 (Act 51) clears barriers to employment for previously incarcerated folks by restricting the convictions that prospective employers may consider when making job offers to felony convictions that occurred in the previous seven years and misdemeanor convictions that occurred in the previous five years. This bill was introduced as part of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs legislative package and was supported by the ACLU of Hawai‘i.

H.B. 285 (Act 47) removes the police officer exception under Hawaii’s public records law, which currently shields suspended officers from accountability. The bill also requires police departments to disclose to the Legislature the identity of suspended or discharged officers and grants decertification authority to the Law Enforcement Standards Board.

Your lawmakers heard you and we applaud them for the passage of these measures. We especially thank the lead sponsors of these bills. As is always the case, not every important bill from this session became law. The fight continues and, in time, we will succeed.

A few notable bills that did not make it:

H.B. 2679 would have required the Hawaii State Judiciary to study a potential pilot project to adjust traffic fines based on a motorist’s income.

S.B. 3148/H.B. 2745  would have limited government use of facial recognition technology, and would have banned private companies’ use of this technology without clear, written consent of the subject.

H.B. 2749/S.B. 2239 would have enacted thorough data collection and disclosure requirements for our county prosecuting attorneys’ offices.

We are proud to walk into 2021 in the company of advocates like you. Please remember to always wear your masks, practice social distancing, and wash your hands often. See you this session, shoots!

George Cordero