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.

5:06 p.m. Ward Pushes Shield Law Extension

Gene Ward is urging the House Judiciary to hear House Bill 194, which makes permanent “the news media protections against the compelled disclosure of sources and unpublished information” in Act 210.

The measure, which has bipartisan support, has yet to be given a hearing. Act 210 is scheduled to sunset or be repealed on June 30.

“The ‘shield’ law for journalists is a necessary part of democracy and helps bring investigated stories to the public. This protection must be continued,” Ward said in a statement this afternoon.

4:36 p.m. Neil on Educ, Ben on Neil

Gov. Abercrombie has no intention of vetoing a bill dealing with the appointment of Hawaii State Board of Education members, he said this afternoon at a launch party for the Hui for Excellence in Education, a new coalition of education stakeholders.

He favors Senate Bill 8, too, which gives the governor direct authority to appoint board members. Will he keep his word, though, if Roy Takumi‘s House Bill 338 for a selection advisory council instead lands on his desk? —Katherine Poythress

Meanwhile, Ben Cayetano was asked (at a press conference on rail today) about his thoughts on Abercrombie’s policy of zero transparency on judicial appointments.

“It’s set forth in the constitution, OK? Our Judicial Selection Commission. They vet these guys. They do it in secret and then the list goes to the governor and the governor selects from the list. The way I did it was I would select and then I would release the list after I made the decision. So if they want to hold me accountable, they can hold me accountable… I really think that Neil should release the names. And that’s why I disagree with Abercrombie in the sense that I think the names should be released after he makes the decision.”

And how does Ben think Neil is doing in his old job?

“I had it bad but he has it worse. A lot of the fat has been cut out already. He doesn’t have a lot of room to move.” —Adrienne LaFrance

3:39 p.m. Illinois Says Yes To Civil Unions

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn today signed into law legislation approving civil unions, making it the 16th U.S. state to give spousal rights to same-sex couples.

Reuters reports:

Both houses of the Illinois legislature narrowly passed the measure that takes effect in July, though it does not alter a state law that limits marriage to a man and a woman.

The new law does give gay couples new rights normally reserved for spouses regarding such things as hospital visitation, making health-care decisions and matters concerning probate of a partner’s estate.

Opponents of the Illinois law said allowing civil unions opened the way to gay marriage.

3:12 p.m. Kouchi Concerned About Civil Unions

The Garden Island reports that Ron Kouchi “saw many faults on a civil unions bill that almost became law last year, and the crafting of a new bill this year didn’t change his mind.”

After the state Senate’s passage of (Senate Bill) 232, Kouchi explained why he was one of the six senators who voted against the measure. “What SB 232 is, it’s just a reintroduction of (House Bill) 444 in its entirety, and changed the date,” Kouchi said.

Kouchi said bill SB 232 would supposedly give same sex couples the same legal rights as married couples. But SB 232 does not have the full range of legal responsibilities required for married couples, according to Kouchi.

2:34 p.m. Slots, Video Poker Bill Deferred

House Bill 394, which calls for a constitutional amendment to legalize slot machine and video poker gambling in Waikiki, was deferred by the House Tourism committee today.

The bill received no testimony for or against, save for a lone gentleman who told lawmakers slots and video poker would “backfire” as a revenue source, because, he said, people would become quickly addicted and never leave the machines — thus depriving other tourism markets.

“Go with a lottery or scratch cards instead,” he advised.

The 2011 Legislature is considering other gaming bills, including one calling for a lottery.

1:19 p.m. House Continues Invocations

Rep. Rida Cabanilla delivered the invocation to begin a House session this afternoon.

“I am a Catholic,” she began. “In the name of the Father and the Son, dear Lord … we are grateful we are able to keep our tradition (of invocations).”

Cabanilla asked for divine guidance to help lawmakers help the state.

“In your name we pray,” she said in closing.

The House members later stood and held a moment of silence for the late Frenchy Desoto.

12:08 p.m. Senate Approves Appointed BOE Bill

With a unanimous vote, the state Senate today passed Senate Bill 8, moving swiftly on a major piece of legislation — in this case, enabling the governor to select Board of Education members.

Education Chairwoman Jill Tokuda, noting that the House is considering its own version of an appointed BOE bill, said the Senate version allows for greater representation of the island counties and also provides for a voting student member.

Tokuda also said the bill did not invest to much authority in the governor, as there would be checks and balances on the appointments.

11:40 a.m. Education Hui Launches

Hui for Excellence in Education started business at the Capitol today.

HEE is a statewide coalition of diverse stakeholders “committed to sharing resources and identifying opportunities to improve public education,” according to a press release. “This is the first time such a broad group has come together to focus on education.”

“HEE’s membership will support ohana and community engagement at the local level, and will serve as a bridge to policy-makers and the DOE,” said Cheri Nakamura, HEE director.

11:01 a.m Hotels Resorts Oppose Touching TAT

No surprise: Representatives of groups working for hotels, resorts and other visitor accommodations told House lawmakers that it’s a terrible idea to raise the transient accommodations tax on time shares.

Marriott, Starwood and others argue that time-share owners and users have high occupancy rates, are frequent repeat guests and already pay a lot in state taxes. Raising taxes will send them to Mexico or Orlando, Fla., they warned.

State Tax Director Fred Pablo, however, thanks raising the TAT on time shares from 7.25 percent to 9.25 percent is a good idea, because that’s what hotels pay. The state needs the extra kala, too.

On hand: Todd Apo lobbying on behalf of Disney in Ko Olina, and Mufi Hannemann, who did not speak but was there in his capacity as new head of the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association. The two men later compared notes on the third-floor lanai.

10:50 a.m. Inouye on Egypt

Dan Inouye today released the following statement on the crisis in Egypt:

“It is not for me or anyone else in our country to choose the fate of the current Egyptian government, that is for the people of Egypt to decide. I am a strong supporter of Democratic reforms in Egypt but it should be kept in mind that it sometimes takes a while for democracy to evolve. After all, we’re still evolving here in the U.S. We continue to work to embody the vision of our fathers that ‘all men are created equal’ and we sometimes struggle with that.”

Judge McKenna Poser on Facebook?

The Sabrina Shizue McKenna on Facebook is not Neil Abercrombie‘s nominee to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

That comes from Will Espero, who tells Civil Beat that the judge has informed him and other state senators — the men and women who will vote on her nomination — that the real McKenna does not have a Facebook account.

The Facebook account that purports to be McKenna’s certainly doesn’t sound much like her. Among her 129 “friends” are Guy Hagi, Keith Rollman, Malia Zimmerman, Joe Souki, John Radcliffe, Kitty Lagaretta, David Shapiro, Jay Fidell and Jon Riki Karamatsu — an eclectic bunch.

Civil Beat is also one of her “activities and interests,” as is Hawaii News Now and KITV. Arts and entertainment? The Minks All-Girl Kinks.

Another clue: The Facebook McKenna self-identifies as “openly gay,” though neither the governor nor the judge mentioned McKenna’s sexual orientation during the announcement of her nomination.

Cayetano Leads Group of Rail Critics

Ben Cayetano — remember him? — is spokesman for a newly formed coalition of “a growing list” of “concerned organizations and individuals” worried about the visual effects of the planned elevated rail line through downtown Honolulu.

The groups have scheduled a press conference for 12:30 p.m. on the steps of Honolulu Hale.

Pearl Johnson, chairwoman of one of the groups — the League of Women Voters-Honolulu Planning & Transportation Committee — says, “The City seems to have convinced the media that Rail Transit has permission to start construction — that ‘it’s over’. It’s far from over.”

The hui’s members include AIA architects, Life of the Land and The Outdoor Circle.

Big Island Redistricting

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports that the Hawaii County Council will “get its first look at a redistricting plan Tuesday” when a bill by South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford is scheduled to be heard by a committee.

The council has no say about where the new lines will be drawn around council districts once the county receives its decennial population updates from the 2010 census. But Ford wants to set clear parameters for the process and train members of the Redistricting Commission in redistricting law and ethics.

“It just distresses me when the people’s right to a fair and equal vote is compromised,” Ford said Friday.

Big changes in the shape of council districts are likely. Hawaii’s population grew 12.3 percent to 1.36 million people in the past decade, outpacing the national average of 9.7 percent.

Bills: Booze, Taxes and Gambling

House Bill 658 would impose a surcharge for operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant. The measure, introduced by four neighbor island House representatives, will be heard at 8:30 a.m. in Conference Room 309.

House Bill 394 calls for a constitutional amendment to legalize slot machines and video poker gambling “that are not visible from the street in designated resort areas within Waikiki.” The measure, introduced by a Maui House rep, will be heard in a hearing that begins at 9:15 a.m. in Conference Room 312.

In that same hearing, four measures regarding the transient accommodations tax, including increasing it on time shares, are also scheduled to be heard. The bills — House Bill 809, House Bill 1163, House Bill 976 and House Bill 1539 — will likely be opposed by the visitor industry.

Takumi’s BOE Bill

The Senate has already made progress in moving along its measure to appoint a Board of EducationSenate Bill 8. Today the House will begin hearing its version.

House Bill 338, whose introducers include Education Chair Roy Takumi and Finance Chair Marcus Oshiro, will be heard at 2 p.m. in Conference Room 309.

Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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