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.

3:36 p.m. Death With Dignity Revived

It’s back.

One of the most hot-button issues at the Legislature in recent years — even rivaling civil unions — has been the issue of physician-assisted suicide.

Now, a “death with dignity” bill is poised to be introduced, by request, by Calvin Say.

House Bill 1165 (“Relating to Compassion In Passing”) is summarized thusly:

Allows a terminally ill, competent adult to get lethal dose of medication to end life. Prohibits mercy killings, lethal injections, and active euthanasia. Requires informed consent. Allows alternate doctor to replace attending doctor if latter declines to prescribe. Requires monitor at time of taking dose.

3:21 p.m. Inouye: Short-Term Budget Fix Likely

The Hill reports Dan Inouye believes another short-term continuing resolution on the federal budget is likely before the current stopgap measure expires March 4.

A short-term extension could be passed to avoid a government shutdown if the House and Senate can’t reach an agreement on a bill.

The House is expected to hold a vote the week of Feb. 14, around the same time that President Obama is set to release his fiscal year 2012 budget plan.

Inouye is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The short-term continuing resolutions are necessary only because Inouye’s $1.3 trillion budget bill was shelved in December after an uproar over earmarks.

2:38 p.m. Alito Chooses Hawaii Bar Over Obama

POLITICO reports that six of nine U.S. Supreme Court justices will attend President Obama‘s State of the Union address (which begins in about an hour), but Samuel Alito won’t be one of them.

That’s because Alito will speak in Honolulu tomorrow. (View a UH Law School slideshow on Alito at UH here.)

Last year at this time, you will recall, it was Alito who mouthed the words “not true” right after the president dissed Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

1:10 p.m. Senate Committee Approves Civil Unions Bill

As expected, the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee approved Senate Bill 232 on Hawaii civil unions — i.e., HB 444 by another name — with some technical amendments.

No surprise: Voting yes was Clayton Hee, Les Ihara and Maile Shimabukuro, voting no was Sam Slom and Mike Gabbard.

12:42 p.m. Gov Names Justice, Praises Lawmakers

Neil Abercrombie today appointed Sabrina McKenna to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

McKenna, 53, has been serving on the 1st Circuit Court since 1995. Her appointment requires confirmation from the state Senate.

In his press conference naming McKenna, the governor praised lawmakers for moving quickly on legislation concerning an appointed school board and civil unions.

“I have no comment on the civil unions bill, but the Legislature is moving expeditiously in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration (as stated) in my State of the State,” he told reporters. “I am confidant that there is a new spirit in the Legislature in conjunction with the executive that will get to the people’s business in good order.”

11:07 a.m. God, Civil Rights and the Courts

Oral testimony on SB 232 appears weighted in favor of passage of civil unions, but both sides of the controversial issue are well represented today.

In essence, the arguments boil down to those who believe same-sex unions are a threat to marriage, children and society and those who say it is fundamentally about constitutional protections and righting a wrong.

In short, these are the same basic arguments that have been made since Hawaii began discussing the issue nearly 20 years ago, made by many of the very same people.

On a related note, Valerie Smith and Alan Spector of Equality Hawaii, an LGBT advocacy organization, recommended that senators combine SB 232 with the bill they say is more comprehensive, SB 231.

And a final point — as Civil Beat can’t stay for the full hearing, since the governor is naming a new Hawaii Supreme Court justice in about an hour — it is worth observing that the very first bill heard by the 2011 Legislature was the appointed BOE measure heard yesterday. SB 232 is the second.

Priorities: education and civil rights.

10:22 a.m. Arizona, Hawaii and Security

Clayton Hee explains the extra security at the Capitol today, headed by Sheriff’s Deputies, is due to the “tragedy in Arizona.”

“As you know, this Capitol building invites everyone to participate — it was designed that way,” said Hee. “But we have taken some precautions.”

Testifiers are limited to 90 seconds. “The idea is to move the hearing quickly but in a reasonable and prudent manner,” says Hee.

Brian Schatz is the first person asked to testify, but he doesn’t appear to be around. Kim Coco Iwamoto thus speaks first, followed by Gary Okino — two people who represent opposite ends of the civil unions issue.

10:10 a.m. Hundreds of Pages of Testimony

Security has finally opened the doors to the Auditorium and the public and press are filing in. It’s SRO.

How interested are people in this bill? Testimony for this hearing on civil unions numbers in the hundreds of pages.

Clayton Hee and his four fellow committee members — Les Ihara, Maile Shimabukuro, Sam Slom and Mike Gabbard — discussed ground rules on testimony before the audience was let in. There will be a bell to signal when testifiers should wrap things up.

9:49 a.m. Security On High

In an unusual step, Capitol security has cordoned off the first few rows of the Auditorium, apparently to prevent anyone from getting to close to Senate staff during the civil unions hearing.

There is also talk that Neil Abercrombie may be making an appearance — which would help explain all the security.

The Judiciary and Labor Committee is going to attempt to limit testifiers to 1 minute.

Past hearings on civil unions have been known to last for hours, but the Auditorium is only available until 2 p.m. today.

8:42 a.m. Crowd Gathering for Civil Unions

Two hours before the 10 a.m. hearing on Senate Bill 232 — one of several civil unions bills before lawmakers this session — supporters of civil unions (many wearing rainbow-colored lei) have already gathered outside the Capitol Auditorium.

In a sign of interest in the bill, the hearing was moved from the smaller Conference Room 016 to the Auditorium, the largest space at the Capitol available for hearings.

Also, Olelo Community Media has cameras set up in the Auditorium.

SB 232, as we have been reporting, is not the preferred vehicle for civil unions, as it is essentially the same as last session’s House Bill 444 (the one that was vetoed by Gov. Lingle).

While SB 232 does correct the bill’s implementation date to Jan. 1, 2012, most supporters of civil unions favor SB 231, a more expansive bill that has been vetted by the administration, lawmakers, the AG’s office and stakeholders. But SB 231 has not yet been scheduled in Clayton Hee‘s Judiciary and Labor Committee.

Meanwhile, the House is working on its version of SB 231.


Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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