The head of the Hawaii Business Roundtable said that the influential organization is thinking about “updating” its position on House Bill 444.

Executive director Gary Kai told Civil Beat at about 1:20 p.m. Friday, “We are looking at doing an update, but at this point I am not at liberty to disclose. It’s a work in progress.”

Asked if the roundtable might reverse its earlier position, Kai said, “At this point I’ll leave it as an update.”

Then at 5:41 p.m., the Honolulu Star-Advertiser posted an article on its website saying that the group had stopped working on its “update.”

“The executive director of the Hawaii Business Roundtable says the organization stands by its letter urging Gov. Linda Lingle to veto House Bill 444, the civil unions bill,” the story began. “Earlier in the day I was working on an update, but I am no longer doing so,” Kai told the paper in an e-mail. “The executive committee still stands behind that letter.”

Civil Beat attempted to contact Kai after the Star-Advertiser story was published, but he could not be reached for comment.

Kai’s comments earlier in the day came as another major member of the organization, HMSA, rejected the position taken by its executive committee urging Gov. Linda Lingle to veto the bill. Five other members had earlier stood up against the executive committee.

Civil Beat, which first reported the HMSA letter, also revealed Friday that Kai met Wednesday with Sen. Les Ihara, a Democrat who has been instrumental in HB 444’s passage; Laurie Temple, staff attorney for the ACLU of Hawaii; and Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel with Lambda Legal, a national organization that advocates for civil rights of lesbians, gay men and people with HIV/AIDS.

In a letter to Kai following the meeting, Temple and Pizer explained “the key reasons why HBR members can feel confident that the law can be implemented smoothly.”

Kai said he has sent the memo to all roundtable members and asked for their input. He said there was no specific timeframe for response. He described the meeting with supporters as “not quite what I expected, but that’s fine from that standpoint.” Kai said he wished the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office had “something more definitive to say” on HB 444 other than its Nov. 25 opinion stating that the Jan. 1, 2010, date it goes into effect does not invalidate the bill.

Kai reiterated that the roundtable’s executive committee remains concerned about “flaws” in House Bill 444, specifically language in the bill that says the bill, should it become law, would be retroactive to Jan. 1. Most bills that pass the state Legislature are implemented on July 1 or the following Jan. 1.

Concerned about legal issues and implementation problems raised by the bill, Kai wrote Lingle on June 4 asking her to veto HB 444. He suggested the governor form a commission to develop recommendations on civil unions legislation to the 2011 Legislature.

The letter has upset supporters of HB 444, including members of the 48-member roundtable who disagree with the roundtable’s executive committee.

Among the roundtable members publicly disagreeing with its leadership are Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Marriott International, Time Warner Cable, Marsh & McLennan Cos. and Aon Corp.

On Friday, Robert Hiam, president and CEO of HMSA, another roundtable member, added his voice against the executive committee’s decision. Civil Beat obtained a letter he sent to Carolyn Golojuch of PFLAG-Oahu, which represents parents, families and friends of lesbians and gays.

Hiam wrote that HMSA “was not consulted” on the executive committee’s letter to Lingle.

“Our organization opposes discrimination on any basis, and in keeping with that philosophy, had we been consulted on this matter, we would not have supported the decision to call for a veto of HB 444,” he wrote.

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