State lawmakers aim to address gun violence, mental health
HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled several measures to prevent gun violence and boost mental health care weeks after a Honolulu resident fatally shot two police officers, started a fire that burned down several homes, and killed his landlord and himself.
“That tragedy has heightened the urgency with which we are considering measures dealing with gun violence and mental health,” said Rep. Gregg Takayama, the chairman of the House public safety committee said at a news conference.
Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard and members of Gov. David Ige’s administration joined the announcement held by members of the House and Senate majority caucuses.
“Please don’t forget our two officers who died, and let’s move these things forward and get our people and our communities the help that they need,” Ballard said.
Honolulu police said the instigator of the Jan. 19 violence, Jaroslav “Jerry” Hanel, didn’t have any firearm permits. It’s not known how he obtained a gun.
A friend of his landlord Lois Cain said Cain kept her late husband’s guns in a storage cabinet underneath her bed, though the friend wasn’t sure if this was still the case this year.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Chris Lee said one bill would address what happens when a gun owner passes away and leaves his or her weapons behind — including who would be responsible for the firearms so they don’t fall into the wrong hands.
Lawmakers have introduced other gun violence measures not directly related to last month’s incident. One would prohibit possessing a firearm while intoxicated.
To boost mental health care, lawmakers want to provide beds for those needing short-term hospitalization of about a week. Currently the only option would be the Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe, but that facility is reserved for those accused or convicted of crimes.
Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, chairwoman of the House human services and homelessness committee, said the challenge now is that mentally ill individuals are taken to hospitals but released before they are stabilized and ready to reintegrate into a halfway house or other facility. They then often wind up on the street, she said.
Edward Mersereau, deputy director of the state Department of Health’s behavioral health division, said there are 34 beds that could be made available at Leahi Hospital on Oahu and another 24 to 30 beds on various neighbor islands that could be converted to this use.
“We are positive that once we implement these initiatives, we’ll start to see a decline in the individuals who are out there on the streets suffering from acute substance abuse disorders and mental illness,” Mersereau said.
He said the plan could cost about $15 million to $30 million to get off the ground and be funded over time by Medicaid billing and reimbursements.
Rep. Della Au Belatti, the House majority leader, said lawmakers would need to discuss the spending.