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.

1:59 p.m. Birther Headline of the Day!

With the introduction of House Bill 1166, the one that would allow the Department of Health to charge $100 for a copy of a Barack Obama‘s birth certificate, Hawaii is once again the center of the universe of the birther madness.

Here, for example, is a headline from The Huffington Post:

“Hawaii Legislature Introduces Bill To Raise Revenues From Lunatics.”

At least no one is complaining anymore about Neil Abercrombie‘s failed quest to quash the birther conspiracy.

12:40 p.m. Senate Approves Civil Unions

The Hawaii Senate today voted 19-6 on Senate Bill 232, allowing civil unions beginning Jan. 1. Mike Gabbard, Sam Slom, Will Espero, Donna Mercado Kim, Ron Kouchi and Donavan Dela Cruz voted against the bill. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

The vote came after spirited testimony that brought up equal rights, the tradition of marriage, the education of children and religious values. The name of Sabrina McKenna, the governor’s nominee to the Hawaii Supreme Court, was also brought up, specifically, the fact that she is a lesbian.

Kudos to The Honolulu Star-Advertiser‘s Twitter handle, @starpolitics, for excellent tweeting of the Senate floor session, which was, sadly, not televised.

11:46 a.m. GOP Slams Dems Over Moody’s Report

Dylan Nonaka, executive director of the Hawaii Republican Party, had the following to say this morning about Democrats and the economy:

Today, Moody’s Investors Service just put a price tag on the failed leadership of the Democratic Party in Hawaii. According to Moody’s, Hawaii has the highest debt burden in the nation. Because the Democrats keep spending beyond our means, every man, woman and child in Hawaii now owes the state $7,987.

As Hawaii Democrats kept spending, raiding special funds and increasing the size of State government, they have forced the rest of us to pay for their mistakes and lack of leadership. Moody’s points out that Hawaii’s State and County Employee Retirement System fund is now rated at the bottom 20 nationally.

“The tab for the Democrats’ lack of leadership and willingness to reward their friends, like union bosses, now comes due,” said Hawaii GOP Chair Jonah Kaauwai. “We simply cannot afford these good old boys who when the party’s over, stick us with the check,” he said.

Kaauwai pointed to Abercrombie appointee Dwight Takamine as a prime example of Democrat business as usual. “As House Finance Chair, in 1999, Takamine amended a bill to underfund the Employees Retirement System. The Hawaii State Supreme Court ruled that was unconstitutional in 2007. And now Governor Abercrombie nominates Takamine to an appointed position, after he left the State and County retirement system in a shambles, so Takamine can get his “High 3” off the back of the hard working men and women in State and County government, and their only solution is to tax pensioners and soda. “There is no greater sign that the bad old days of ‘Reward your friends and punish your enemies,” Kaauwai said.

Kaauwai concluded that “Hawaii needs to wake up because the Democrats are spending even faster as they can tax, and right now, they’re in overdrive.”

10:25 a.m. How Akaka, Inouye Voted On Filibuster Reform

The U.S. Senate today effectively killed major reform of the filibuster. There were several votes on the matter, and OpenCongress.org breaks them down, including how Dan Akaka and Dan Inouye voted:

On one vote, Akaka voted ‘nay’ and Inouye abstained on a resolution offered by Tom Harkin that was defeated by a vote of 12-84. “It was subject to a 67-vote threshold. … This resolution would ‘permit a decreasing majority of Senators to invoke cloture.’ It also guarantees both parties amendments after cloture has been invoked.”

On another vote, Akaka voted ‘aye’ and Inouye abstained on a resolution offered by Tom Udall that was defeated by a vote of 44-51. “It was subject to a 67-vote threshold. … The resolution would provide for several reforms: (1) eliminate the filibuster on motions to proceed, (2) eliminate secret holds, (3) guarantee consideration of amendments for majority and minority, (4) implement a ‘talking’ filibuster and (5) expedite post-cloture time on nominations.”

On a third vote, Akaka voted ‘aye’ and Inouye abstained on a resolution by Jeff Merkley that was defeated by a vote of 46-49. “It was subject to a 67-vote threshold. The focus of this resolution was to implement a ‘talking’ filibuster … this idea would mean ‘Senators opposed to proceeding to final passage will be required to continue debate as long as the subject of the cloture vote or an amendment, motion, point of order, or other related matter is the pending business.'”

(NOTE: After this item was posted, Inouye’s office explained to Civil Beat that Sen. Inouye did not vote because, due to a major winter storm, he was snowed in in his Maryland condo. “He was stuck on the 14th floor of his building without heat or power for more than 24 hours,” said spokesman Peter Boylan.)

Though the votes were largely a defeat for those wanting major filibuster reform, POLITICO offered this take:

There were narrow victories for rules reform advocates. The Senate voted to limit by several hundred the number of executive branch nominations subject to confirmation; prevent senators from delaying publicly available amendments by forcing clerks to read them aloud; and limit senators from blocking legislation anonymously. The changes were the most substantial tweaks to the Senate rules since the Watergate era.

With frustration growing that the filibuster has been abused, critics of the potent stalling tactic sensed that 2011 marked the best time in a generation to overhaul the Senate’s rules and speed up the old-fashioned body. But failing to do so with the wind at their backs has left many in the Senate resigned to the view that the filibuster’s rules are here to stay — potentially for good.

9 a.m. Civil Unions To Receive Senate Vote Today

Senate Bill 232, one of several civil unions measure introduced in the 2011 Legislature, will be voted on by the full state Senate in a floor session beginning at 11:30 p.m.

The session will not be televised on Olelo Community Media’s Capitol TV, but the public can view the action from the Senate gallery. Sens. Sam Slom and Mike Gabbard opposed SB 232 in committee, and there may be some debate today.

Still, the bill is expected to pass and would be the first bill to pass a chamber this session. It would then cross over to the House for consideration.

SB 232 is nearly identical to House Bill 444, the vetoed civil unions bill from last year, but it corrects problems with implementation. If signed into law, civil unions would be legal beginning Jan. 1

A second civil unions bill, Senate Bill 231, is a more expansive measure that addresses concerns about taxes and benefits. But Clayton Hee has not scheduled a hearing for SB 232 in the Judiciary and Labor Committee.

Meanwhile, there are three civil unions bills on the House side.

House Bill 1244 allows for the refusal of services or accommodations related to the solemnization of same-sex marriages, civil unions, and other same-sex unions on religious grounds. It was introduced by Joe Souki by request.

House Bill 1453 establishes civil unions and provides to civil union partners the benefits and obligations conferred upon a couple by marriage. It also provides for termination of civil unions through the judicial system. It was introduced by Democrats Scott Saiki, Chris Lee and Mina Morita.

House Bill 1623 extends the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union. It was introduced by Blake Oshiro and 20 other lawmakers, including Calvin Say, Marcus Oshiro and several Republicans.

None of the House bills has a hearing scheduled at this time.

Puppy Love

Republican Cynthia Thielen and Democrat Chris Lee are pushing bills to rein in so-called puppy mills.

“Unfortunately, Hawaii is one of the few states where puppy mills are allowed to flourish because of lack of permitting and buyer recourses,” says Thielen. “Just recently there has been several media reports of large scale breeders who continue to raise hundreds of puppies in unsanitary and substandard conditions.”

House Bill 1148 requires dog breeders to provide purchasers of dogs with written statements of the dog’s medical history and allows purchasers to return dogs to a breeder for a refund or exchange if the dog has a pre-existing condition.

House Bill 1192 requires county animal control officers to establish permitting process for breeders.

Thielen added, “I have been told that some breeding facilities are facing animal abuse court cases and are also a being fined daily for zoning and permitting violations, yet they remain in operation.”

Bills of the Day: Poi, Helmets, MMA and BOE

A selective digest of measures to be heard at the state Capitol.

Senate Bill 101, which is scheduled to be heard at a hearing that begins at 2:45 p.m. on Conference Room 229), exempts the preparation of poi using traditional Hawaiian food preparation practices from DOH regulation regarding food safety.

Also on tab, [Senate Bill 260}(http://capitol.hawaii.gov/session2011/lists/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=260) which repeals the requirement that an ambulance with paramedics be present at a mixed martial-arts event.

Senate Bill 8, the appointed BOE measure, has another hearing set for 10:30 a.m. in Conference Room 211.

Senate Bill 828, set to be heard at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 224, requires helmet use for bicycles, mopeds, and motorcycles.

The Gov, Latinos and School

Neil Abercrombie is scheduled to attend the Latin Business Hawaii/Hawaii Hispanic News Scholarship Awards tomorrow from 3-5 p.m. Chaminade University’s Eiben Hall Ching Conference Center.

Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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