Welcome to Capitol Watch. There’s a new governor, new leadership at the Legislature and other government branches, and Civil Beat is reporting on all of it.

10:11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, Addendum

This information was passed along by a helpful and knowledgeable reader concerning new civil union’s legislation:

Today’s Capitol Watch has a major error. It says that the tweaked civil unions bill 231 contains more benefits for unmarried couples. That is completely untrue. It contains the exact benefits as last Year’s bill only it is more specific following many of the tax and other implementation questions that were raised last year.”

Thank you, dear reader!

Here are the two Senate bills in question and their current status:

SB 231 is the bill with the “fixes” described above. Judiciary Chairman Clayton Hee has not yet allowed a hearing on SB 231.

SB232 is the bill Hee has scheduled to be heard Tuesday at 10 a.m. in Conference Room 016.

Should be a very interesting hearing, no?

5:05 p.m. No Kumbaya at the House

Cynthia Thielen spoke out against committee chair assignments made by House Democrats earlier today.

Thielen, one of eight Republicans in a 51-member body, said several of her GOP colleagues have valuable experience in certain areas that would be of great use to certain committees. And yet, no Republican sits as chairman or vice chairman of any House committee.

“I know you have a minority faction among the Democrats,” Thielen said in comments directed toward Calvin Say. “And you’re trying to work things out among each other … but you are incredibly discriminatory against the Republican caucus.”

Thielen said the caucus represents the interests of over 200,000 constituents

4:01 p.m. Civil Unions Hearing on Tuesday?

Hawaii Reporter says civil unions legislation will be heard in the Senate Judiciary committee Tuesday, tentatively set for 9 a.m. in Conference Room 016.

“On the agenda will be the 2011 redraft of last year’s controversial HB 444, the civil unions bill,” according to the story. “The bill numbers will be assigned by the clerk on Monday.”

“There are actually two separate measures in the Senate. One mirrors exactly the bill that was enacted at the last moment of the last day of the 2010 session, then vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle. Another bill tweaks the first version and adds even more tax and other benefits for unmarried couples.”

3:46 p.m. Hawaii Seeks to Preserve Health-Care Reform

Hawaii today joined eight other states in filing an amicus brief in support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in order to affirm a Michigan U.S. District Court ruling upholding the act.

Attorney General David Louie said the purpose of the act — to provide greater access to affordable health care for those who need it — “is an appropriate use of Congress’ power and serves a good purpose. The challenge to the individual mandate is without merit, and should be opposed.”

“States across the nation, including Hawaii, are dealing with an unprecedented fiscal crisis in large part because of rising health care costs,” said Neil Abercrombie. “To change course now would compound the already daunting challenge of addressing increasing health care costs and providing quality health care to all.”

2:57 p.m. Defense Contractors + $$$ = Inouye

According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org, three of the top four contributors to Dan Inouye‘s campaign committee over the past five years are defense contractors: Lockheed Martin ($85,700), Northrop Grumman ($45,700) and Boeing Co. ($28,300).

Lobbying company Van Scoyoc Assoc. was third ($30,214).

Hawaii’s Alexander & Baldwin ranked fifth ($26,150).

1:04 p.m. OurTube II

More on Larry Geller‘s video of the House speaker vote — you know, the one that was not broadcast as scheduled Wednesday, even though a lot of people really wanted to watch.

The recorded video did not come from Capitol TV, the public service provided by the Hawaii House of Representatives and the Hawaii State Senate that is broadcast on Olelo Community Media.

Rather, someone recorded it from the Capitol’s own internal TV system — each chamber has a dedicated channel — that is sent directly to Capitol offices but does not transmit out of the building. The House system, which is staffed by the House Sergeant-At-Arms, has four cameras.

Apparently, someone concerned about government transparency made sure events were preserved for posterity.

12:50 p.m. Kumbaya at the House

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports on its Political Radar that the state House has finalized its power-sharing leadership and committee chair lineup:

Majority Floor Leader — Rep. Cindy Evans

Majority Whip — Rep. Mele Carroll

Culture and the Arts — Rep. Jessica Wooley

Education — Rep. Roy Takumi

Energy and Environmental Protection — Rep. Hermina Morita

Hawaiian Affairs — Rep. Faye Hanohano

Higher Education — Rep. Scott Nishimoto

Judiciary — Rep. Gil Keith-Agaran

Tourism — Rep. Tom Brower

Vice Speaker Joey Manahan

Majority Leader Blake Oshiro

Majority Whip Pono Chong

Majority Whip Ken Ito

Majority Whip John Mizuno

Majority Whip James Tokioka

Agriculture — Rep. Clifton Tsuji

Consumer Protection and Commerce — Rep. Robert Herkes

Economic Revitalization and Business — Rep. Angus McKelvey

Finance — Rep. Marcus Oshiro

Health — Rep. Ryan Yamane

Housing — Rep. Rida Cabanilla

Human Services — Rep. John Mizuno

International Affairs — Rep. Karen Awana

Labor and Public Employment — Rep. Karl Rhoads

Legislative Management — Rep. Kyle Yamashita

Public Affairs and Military Affairs — Rep. Henry Aquino

Transportation — Rep. Joe Souki

Water, Land and Ocean Resources — Rep. Jerry Chang

12:12 p.m. No Prayer for Senate Invocations

The Associated Press reports that the Hawaii Senate has voted to halt daily prayers offered before each session, making it “the first state legislative body in the nation to halt the practice.”

Democratic Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria said, according to AP, inviting speakers from various religions to preach before every session “wouldn’t survive a likely court challenge.”

“The House will likely continue allowing invocations as long as they don’t mention a specific deity or religion, said Democratic Majority Leader Blake Oshiro.”

11:53 a.m. OHA to State: Give Us Cash — Or Land

Colette Machado told The Maui News there is “no dispute” that the state owes the Office of Hawaiian Affairs $200 million in past-due payments of ceded-land revenues.

“We want to be able to get land — and cash if possible,” she told the newspaper. “Let’s talk. Cash is fine, but land would be OK, or combine the two. Not just any lands, but certain lands that would give us an economic benefit, and for housing too if possible” for OHA’s Native Hawaiian beneficiaries.

Trustee Oswald Stender said the OHA board held a “very constructive meeting” recently with Neil Abercrombie.

“We realize the Legislature and the state have cash-flow issues, but there are resolutions that we proposed,” said Stender. “As we said to Governor Abercrombie, a payment in land would do as well.”

10:45 a.m. Alito At the Bar

Next Wednesday, Jan. 26, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito will address the Hawaii State Bar Association at the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Alito’s presentation — titled “Top Things You May Not Know About the U.S. Supreme Court” — is from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Alito is in Hawaii as part of the William S. Richardson School of Law‘s Jurist-In-Residence Program.  

10:01 a.m. OurTube

Kudos to Larry Geller for posting a 17-minute video of the state House voting on Calvin Say‘s speakership.

“As you will see, there is little reason why it should have been kept from the public,” Geller writes. “Stay with it a few minutes or skip ahead to hear Speaker Calvin Say’s extensive reading from Abraham Lincoln.”

Geller adds, “In the end, though, the finish was pretty dull. This video is not going to win any awards.”

In late 2009, you may recall, Geller made news by taking videotape of rats in Chinatown markets.

9:45 a.m. Hirono’s Committees

Despite the switch in party control, Mazie Hirono will still sit on the same committees she did before Democrats handed the U.S. House of Representatives’ gavel over to Republicans.

Hirono says her committee assignments for the 112th Congress remain serving on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

“Jobs and education are two of my highest priorities,” said Hirono. “I feel very fortunate to have retained membership in these two major committees.”

9:03 a.m. Lawmakers Ready to Roll the Dice?

Casino Gambling Web has an item posted today suggesting that Hawaii may finally give up its long opposition to legalized gambling.

“This might be the right opportunity,” said House Finance Chairman Marcus Oshiro. “We haven’t had a real discussion for several years, so I think we will have the discussion.” The discussion will only be the first step in what figures to be a long process. Legislators want studies done on the advantages and disadvantages of gambling expansion.

Hawaii already has one of the top tourism industries in the US, and adding a casino resort or two will only improve their tourism. Lawmakers are concerned, however, about the possibility of the locals falling into a trap of problem gambling. It is a fear that for a long time kept gambling expansion from progressing across the US.

Bills are already in the hopper.

Senate Bill 3 from Malama Solomon and Brickwood Galuteria: Requires DBEDT to investigate the possibility for Hawaii to participate in the multi-state Powerball lottery operated by the Multi-State Lottery Association or the Mega Millions lottery operated by the Mega Millions consortium, or both. Report to legislature.

Neil Abercrombie spoke about the possibility of a mega-lottery during his campaign for governor, but last week Amy Asselbaye told lawmakers the idea was not at this point a major priority.

Get Energized

UH’s Hawaii Energy Policy Forum will brief legislators and the general public on the state’s clean energy programs and showcase energy industry experts on new technologies and developments.

It runs from 10-11:30 a.m. in the Capitol Auditorium and 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the fourth-floor lanai.

Lingle Ahoy!

The Boat Owners Association of The United States this week honored Linda Lingle as one of 12 recipients of its national 2010 Recreational Boating Access Awards.

Ray Pendleton, Honolulu Boating Examiner, writes:

“Hawaii’s small boat harbors were once called ‘dysfunctional’ by the Honolulu Star Bulletin,” said BoatUS Vice President of Government Affairs Margaret Podlich. “Under former Governor Lingle’s watch, the state had begun a multi-year effort to replace or was in progress of replacing 664 of the 2,260 state-run slips. The state’s flagship recreational boat facility on Oahu, Ala Wai Harbor, has seen nearly two-thirds of its moorings replaced with state-of-the-art modular dock systems,” Podlich continued. “There is a way to go, but this is good progress. These facilities provide vital access to the ocean and generate economic dividends for their communities.”

Sine Die May 5

Now that the House has a speaker — meet the old boss — he and the Senate president (the new boss) have agreed on a legislative timetable.

Of immediate interest: The non-administration bill package cutoff deadline is today, administration’s bill package cutoff deadline is Monday and the bill introduction cutoff is Wednesday.

The 20112 Legislature will adjourn on Cinco de Mayo — but who’s counting?

Health Systems, UH Before House Finance

At 9 a.m., House Finance will hear budget requests from the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation.

The University of Hawaii System will present its budget at 1:30 p.m. Both briefings are in Conference Room 308.

Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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