The Hawaii Business Roundtable has modified its position on House Bill 444, the civil unions bill.

In a letter sent today, executive director Gary Kai informed Gov. Linda Lingle that the elite business group opposes discrimination.

“Unfortunately, the use of the word veto has become equivalent to some, as a position against civil unions,” the letter says. “We would like to make it clear that the Hawaii Business Roundtable opposes any form of discrimination, including any based on race, religion, political or sexual orientation.”

Kai told Civil Beat, “neither the executive committee in its letter nor the board of the Hawaii Business Roundtable has taken a positon on civil unions.”

The letter states, “As employers, we are responsible for administering all of the laws and regulations relating to the people who work to make Hawaii’s economy function. The letter sent to you was to express our concerns regarding the administrative challenges to the implementation of HB 444 in its present form.”

The roundtable still wants the governor to veto HB 444 because of technical and legal concerns arising from the bill’s retroactive date of Jan. 1, 2010. The governor said earlier this week that the bill is on her veto list, but she said she hasn’t made up her mind on what do with perhaps the most difficult decision in her political career. She has until July 6.

Kai had previously told Civil Beat the roundtable did not oppose civil unions.

The latest development comes as at least one-fourth of the 46-member roundtable — an organization representing leading local businesses such as banks, developers, insurance companies, hospitals, schools and hotels — has publicly dissented from the executive committee’s June 4 letter to Lingle.

That letter called for her to veto the bill, as well. But it turned out that members hadn’t been consulted about its contents before it was sent, an extraordinary move for the group that has traditionally relied on consensus before taking public policy stands.

After the furor erupted over the letter, the roundtable asked its membership for their input by Monday afternoon regarding the possibility of a revised position on HB 444. Kai declined to say how the membership broke down in terms of support and opposition to civil unions.

“We have been discussing, as you can imagine, this topic a great deal,” Kai said.

Supporters of HB 444 welcomed the news.

“Today, the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Hawaii applauded the revised statement on the civil unions bill by the executive committee of the Hawaii Business Roundtable,” the two groups said in a statement, observing that “nearly 20 HBR members distanced themselves from the letter, including some who came out in favor of civil unions. This business push demonstrates that fairness is good for business and good for the economy.”

What do you think of the roundtable’s decision to send the governor another letter on civil unions? Share your thoughts in our civil unions discussion.

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