Governor to sign law at international symposium that will strengthen local Environmental Court

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Beverly Creamer, (808) 389-5736
Media Consultant, William S. Richardson School of Law
Posted: Jun 15, 2016

During the week of an international symposium exploring such topics as climate change and curbing global environmental damage, Governor David Ige will sign into law a bill that strengthens Hawai‘i’s own year-old Environmental Court system. The Governor is scheduled to sign Senate Bill 2453 at 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, in Classroom 2 of the UH Law School.

The signing occurs during a symposium that brings together Supreme Court Justices from India and Hawai‘i, along with Indian jurists who helped guide the establishment of Hawai‘i’s landmark Environmental Court that launched July 1, 2015.

The new legislation will strengthen the judicial toolkit for addressing aquatics and fisheries violations, such as illegally taking a female lobster, using an illegal net, or spearfishing in a protected area.  It will allow district court judges to sentence violators to community service and educational training in addition to or as an alternative to existing fines. In effect, the new legislation will create a system in which poachers can learn to become stewards of the environment.

The change is seen as a positive step in increasing natural resource protections, said Associate Law Dean Denise Antolini.  She helped build the Environmental Law Program at the William S. Richardson School of Law, and has been assisting the Judiciary and state Department of Land and Natural Resources in the formation and implementation of the court for the past year.

“This innovative new legislation was strongly supported in the legislative session by a diverse group of legislators and stakeholders, including fishers and conservation advocates, the Judiciary and DLNR, who all agreed that effective enforcement is key to sustainable fishing and natural resources,” said Antolini. “The bill is nicknamed ASSET – for Alternative Sentencing and Supplemental Environmental Training – because it is focused on changing the behavior of violators of our natural resource laws in a positive way, and for the long-term benefit of the entire community.”

The legislation strengthening the new court was proposed to the Legislature by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and Judiciary as the highest priority need of the new Environmental Court. While the new legislation addresses fisheries and aquatic violations, if successful, the concept can be expanded, allowing judges discretion to use creative sentencing options for minor natural resource violations such as littering and technical permit violations.  Currently, the Environmental Court is narrowly limited to imposing criminal fines in such cases.

The 2016 India-Hawaiʻi Law Symposium, titled "Environmental Rule of Law, Environmental Courts, Climate and Constitutions," is set for 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Thursday, June 16, at the Richardson Law School, and is open to the public.  Speakers will address topics such as Climate Trends in Hawai‘i, India’s Climate Initiatives and Cases, and Environmental Crimes in Hawai‘i.

The symposium is part of a growing partnership between the India Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal of India, and the Hawai‘i Supreme Court and William S. Richardson School of Law.  

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