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.

4:32 p.m. Bills on Murder, Domestic Violence

The Hawaii Law Enforcement Coalition this afternoon announced two bills it says are “designed to protect the public from serious violent crime and protect victims of domestic violence.”

Senate Bill 1229 and companion House Bill 1002 want to include in the offense of murder in the second degree “acts committed with the intent to cause serious bodily injury to another person or create the strong probability of causing death or serious bodily injury to another person, which result in the death of another person.”

Senate Bill 1230 and companion House Bill 1003 aim “to provide greater protections to victims of domestic violence who the court is already attempting to keep safe through protective orders.”

The coalition is comprised of the Hawaii attorney general, the prosecuting attorneys and police chiefs of all four counties, and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii.

3:56 p.m. Hirono Picked for Ethics Committee

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has named four minority Democrats to serve on the Ethics Committee. They include Mazie Hirono.

Speaker John Boehner elevated Republican Jo Bonner to chairman and reappointed Mike Conaway, Charlie Dent, Gregg Harper and Michael McCaul to the panel.

The Hill reports that Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, “had echoed calls for an entirely new panel and denounced the decision to reappoint the same members of Congress to the panel.

“We’re only two days into the new Congress and already the House leadership has demonstrated it does not take ethics seriously,” she said.

2:30 p.m. Health Director Quits, Under Investigation for Fraud

In a brief statement this afternoon, the Abercrombie administration said interim Health Director Neal Palafox is stepping down:

Dr. Neal Palafox today asked Governor Neil Abercrombie to withdraw his nomination for Director of the State Department of Health. Governor Abercrombie accepted Dr. Palafox’s request and will make a new appointment for the Health Director as soon as possible.

Palafox is being investigated by Hawaii AG David Louie for medical reimbursement fraud, according to Hawaii News Now.

Read the complete story. This item has been edited from an earlier version.

12:42 p.m. Gay Media Take Note Of McKenna Nomination

The nomination of Sabrina McKenna to Hawaii’s high court is making the Internet rounds.

The gay-advocay online publication The Advocate says Sabrina McKenna “would be the first openly gay judge” if she is confirmed to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

The Advocate observed that the nomination came on the same day that a Hawaii Senate committee approved a civil unions bill.

“A very big congratulations to Judge McKenna!” said Pride In Utah.

Neil Abercrombie made no mention of McKenna’s sexual orientation when he announced her nomination yesterday.

11:58 a.m. HTA’s Argument for Marketing Money

You won’t find the word “marketing” in Mike McCartney‘s statement on the latest tourism numbers — the numbers, released today, that show that more than 7 million people visited Hawaii last year and dropped $11.4 billion in change into the economy.

But there is little question the Hawaii Tourism Authority believes aggressive marketing of the state pays off handsomely.

Problem is, Neil Abercrombie wants to grab $10 million from the HTA’s marketing budget, which is in the $60 million range.

Some lawmakers don’t think taking the HTA’s money, which comes from the hotel tax levied on visitors, is a good idea. Brickwood Galuteria, for one, argues that the healthy increase in tourist arrivals and spending keeps local people working.

10:37 a.m. CJ’s Address in Full

It’s right here:

10:24 a.m. Recktenwald Wants Money to End Court Furloughs

Noting that two-day per month furloughs of judiciary employees, begun in November 2009, have eliminated more than 600,000 available staff hours of work, Mark Recktenwald says the result has been “reduced, delayed and in some cases, eliminated” important services.

Accordingly, he says:

Justice is not something that should be rationed. The costs of attempting to do so will be far higher in the long run, than any savings that can be realized now. That’s why the judiciary’s proposed budget seeks funding to eliminate furloughs, and get our employees back to work full time beginning July 1st.

We are also asking for funding to address long-standing construction needs in our facilities across the state.

In the last two years, the judiciary general fund appropriation was reduced by $19.7 million, or more than 13 percent.

The number of pending civil cases in district courts increased by almost 100 percent from FY 2008 through FY 2010, says the CJ. The number of civil cases filed in circuit court has increased by almost 20 percent during that same time.

10:15 a.m. Packed Senate Chamber for CJ

Mark Recktenwald‘s first State of the Judiciary address at the Capitol has packed the Senate chamber with plenty of VIPs.

They include Brian Schatz, Linda Lingle and Ronald Moon.

No show: Neil Abercrombie.

9:26 a.m. Senators: ‘Let Us Pray’

Nine state Senators gathered in a circle, held hands and prayed together in Senate chambers, a few minutes before the Senate was gaveled into session this morning.

The prayer was organized by Will Espero, a Catholic, who would like to amend Senate rules to allow a moment of silence before sessions. Barring that, some senators say they may continue the voluntary prayer on a periodic basis.

Espero’s proposal comes in the wake of the Senate’s decision last week to halt mandatory invocations for floor sessions. The ACLU of Hawaii and Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church have argued the invocations violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The senators who prayed with Espero were Glenn Wakai, Suzanne Chun Oakland, Clarence Nishihara, Michelle Kidani, Gil Kahele, Ron Kouchi, Pohai Ryan and Mike Gabbard — all Democrats.

8:10 a.m. Gov: ‘Chopping Arms and Legs’

Two days after his State of the State address spelled out Neil Abercrombie‘s plan to tackle the state’s deficits, the governor told business leaders today that there isn’t much left in the budget to trim.

“I am telling you that when you already chop off arms and legs and then say you have more chopping to do, there is not much of a foundation to go on any longer,” he said at a Hawaii Business magazine forum this morning in Waikiki.

The governor added, “We do not have a healthy, functioning government — we do not have one right now.”

Abercrombie predicted the state would be “in the black” by the end of the biennium, “But that means everyone has to paddle together in the water together.”

(Ah, the trusty canoe metaphor!)

Abercrombie also said his administration is “wide open to ideas” to make government more efficient and said he has been receiving “a raft of emails” from state employees after he reached out to them. Abercrombie said the workers apparently had never been contacted by a governor before.

“They never took advantage of social media and the new technology,” he said.

7:22 a.m. Akaka Loses Coveted Post

Dan Akaka, a World War II veteran, will no longer chair the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports.

He will be replaced today by Patty Murray of Washington and now lead the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Akaka is up for re-election next year. Will the loss of the Veterans’ post and the failure to pass the Akaka bill be a factor in the campaign? Good bet.

Indian Affairs oversees Native Hawaiian, American Indian and Native Alaskan issues.

7:15 a.m. Whither Earmarks and Hawaii?

President Obama called for a ban on earmarks in his State of the Union address last night.

Given Hawaii’s heavy dependence on federal money, what did Dan Inouye have to say about the ban?

His office only issued this statement yesterday, which was about the speech generally:

“It was a visionary message of hope. It was a strong declaration of unity and bi-partisanship. It was a good speech.”

Of note: As President Pro Tempore of the U.S. Senate, Inouye viewed the speech away from the U.S. Capitol “from an undisclosed location.”

The Business of Hawaii Is Business

Gov. Abercrombie will provide brief remarks at “Hawaii 2011: State of the Community Report Symposium: Confronting Our Problems — Investing in our Future,” which will be held from 7:15 – 8 a.m. at the Hawaii Prince Hotel.

The symposium is tied to the release of a Hawaii Business magazine report focusing on the challenges of the economy, health, education, the environment, housing and homelessness, and crime and communities.

The Business of the Courts is Justice

Mark Recktenwald will deliver his first State of the Judiciary address at the Capitol at 10 a.m.

The talk from the “CJ” comes one day after the governor named Sabrina McKenna to replace Recktenwald’s associate justice seat.

The Business of Schools Is Education

At 2 p.m., a joint informational briefing with the Education Committees of both the House and Senate will talk about the challenges of charter schools.

Invited to speak are the Charter School Administrative Office, Charter School Review Panel, Hawaii Charter School Network, Kamehameha Schools and Hookakoo Corporation.

The Business of Slom Is Slom

Undaunted by the fact that he is the only Republican in the state Senate this session, Sam Slom has introduced his minority package of bills.

The bills include:

SB 268, which requires a fiscal impact statement for any proposed legislation that includes an appropriation or which will result in significant future fiscal changes for the state;

SB 269, which exempts food and medical services from the general excise tax;

SB 270, which revises medical tort reform laws;

SB 271, which repeals the requirement for gasoline to contain 10 percent ethanol;

SB 272, which amends the Hawaii Constitution to provide initiative, referendum and recall;

SB 273, which term limits state representatives to six consecutive two-year terms, and state senators to three consecutive four-year terms; and

SB 274, which provides for an advisory referendum as part of the next general election to allow the people of Hawaii to vote in favor of or against the Akaka bill.


Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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