On June 4 the Hawaii Business Roundtable sent a letter to Gov. Linda Lingle urging her to veto House Bill 444, which would allow civil unions for opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

The roundtable, comprised of the state’s top business leaders, says language in the bill raises “a number of legal issue” and has implications for employment benefits and other rights. They want a commission formed to develop recommendations on the matter and submit them to the State Legislature in 2011.

Civil Beat spoke with Gary K. Kai, executive director of the Hawaii Business Roundtable.

CIVIL BEAT: What led the roundtable to believe House Bill 444 had problems?

GARY K. KAI: We had a discussion at an executive committee meeting and the topic was brought up. There were concerns about the legal issues raised, and that fact that it might result in further litigation. But it definitely posed some questions for business. I am not a human resources expert, but these kinds of issues are the biggest issues. So, in the letter, we decided to write not in opposition to civil unions but this part of the bill. Our letter is worded carefully.

The other thing was that there is an attorney general opinion about that, but the opinion really is written, in my opinion, that the legislation is legal. It does not say anything about the practical issues that comes from the implementation date of Jan. 1, 2010. Several of our people have questions and expressed concerns about that.

You mean that businesses would have to deal with those benefits starting from that date?

Yes, and I guess because the bill also recognizes civil unions in other jurisdictions, so people can bring things up retroactively.

Is the executive committee’s position supported widely among your membership?

Let’s put it this way: It rarely acts independently, so pretty much if it is going to do something it pretty much is a consensus.

Was it a unanimous committee vote?

I can’t disclose if it was unanimous, but they generally act as one.

Was your membership informed of the letter to the governor?

Yes, they were informed of the letter.

Were there any objections?

There was some discussion regarding the letter. There are some concerns being expressed. There are members who support and oppose civil unions. But we are really focused on the bill.

Have you had any response from the governor, who is traveling in Asia?

No, and frankly I don’t expect one.

Why did the roundtable decide on this action so late in the process?

I guess it was because at the 11th hour the bill was revived. It seemed like it was dead.

Did the roundtable or its members testify on HB 444?

Not that I know of. I am not sure about last year’s session, because I just joined in July 2009.

As I said, our position is pretty clear — and I tried to make it a clear position — that we are not in a position of opposing civil unions but the way the bill was crafted. We would like to see a commission appointed because it will take more than just a little tinkering to resolve the issues we are concerned about. It would be helpful to have human resource and legal folks on the commission who understand those kind of issues.

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