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.

4:34 p.m. Okimoto, Nahale-a Approved By Senate Committees

Transportation Director Glenn Okimoto was approved unanimously by one Senate committee, while Hawaiian Home Lands Chairman Albert Nahale-a* was unanimously confirmed by another. Both nominations await full Senate confirmation.

For these keeping track, four of Neil Abercrombie‘s Cabinet picks appear headed to quick confirmation, while two more — for Budget and Finance and for Taxation — seem assured as well.

2:51 p.m. Plastic Bag Bans Not In The Bag

West Hawaii Today reports that the County Council Environmental Management Committee voted 5-3 to move a plastic bag reduction bill forward.

Testifiers in two hours of testimony were overwhelmingly in favor of Bill 17, but a few people bristled at what they saw as excessive governmental regulation.

“Being against this bill makes me feel like a criminal because I use plastic bags,” said Hilo resident Richard Lionheart.

Bill 17, which was modeled after Maui and Kauai programs, will “forbid businesses from providing plastic checkout bags to customers, or face fines from $100 to $500. The money will be deposited in the county open space fund.”

Meanwhile, on Kauai, The Garden Island reports that island’s ban on plasitc bags might be reviewed.

A new law banning checkout plastic bags went into effect three weeks ago, but many food service establishments are allegedly already complaining of food breaking through paper bags and possible contamination.

“The brown paper bags were not designed for holding these food items,” said Councilman Dickie Chang, explaining that when food spills from a to-go container, it causes the bags to break. “It can’t even hold an apple.”

12:29 p.m. Civil Unions Bills Set For Tuesday In House

The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled three civil unions measures for Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. in the Capitol Auditorium.

House Bill 1244 allows for refusal of solemnization of same-sex marriages and civil unions on religious grounds.

House Bil 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.

Senate Bill 232 is the civil unions bill passed last week by the Senate — the bill that is essentially the same as House Bill 444 from last year.

Two other civil unions bills, one in the Senate and the other in the House, that address questions about taxes and benefits, have yet to be scheduled hearings.

12:01 p.m. Fallout Over Inouye And Earmarks

The news from yesterday’s surprising statement by Dan Inouye that he would give up on earmarks for the next two fiscal years is all over the Internet, including one post that equated the senator’s action to hell freezing over.

Speaking of freezing, the earmarks ban is not going over well with Alaska’s senators, reports The Anchorage Daily News.

Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski both said they agree there’s a need to cut federal spending, but neither thinks an end to earmarks is the way to do it.

“I have said many times before, Alaska is a young state with many needs, and we deserve our fair share of federal funding to develop our resources and our infrastructure,” Begich said.

Murkowksi, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said she believes it’s up to Congress to determine spending. By leaving the executive branch to determine such appropriations, they’re ceding power to the White House, she said.

“We are in essence abdicating our constitutional duties, giving cabinet departments and federal agencies the sole power, authority and ability to target and spend taxpayers’ money,” she said.

11:22 a.m. Photo Op With Gov!

Neil Abercrombie will welcome a Chinese Lion Dance to his executive chambers at the Capitol between 4:15 and 4:30 p.m. this afternoon.

Kung Hee Fat Choy!

10:22 a.m. Young: Budgets Will Be Finalized This Month

At his confirmation hearing this morning, Kalbert Young said the Abercrombie administration expects to get all department budget requests to the Legislature by the end of this month, and not mid-March, as had previously been forecast. The earlier projection had rankled some lawmakers because March is when they begin budget deliberations

Young said most departments had submitted their requests internally to Young’s Budget and Finance department by last Friday and the rest by this Monday, and Young and his team were now assessing priorities. He acknowledged that the requests as currently drafted leave no room for the $50 million the governor wants to use on New Day In Hawaii programs.

And, responding to questioning from Sam Slom, Young said the administration will look closely at various programs that rely on federal funding, given Dan Inouye‘s announcement yesterday that he would follow President Obama’s demand to halt earmarks.

Lastly, David Ige said his Ways and Means committee will wait until next week on decision making concerning confirmation of Young and Fred Pablo. That prompted Ron Kouchi to quip, “If we take too long, (Young) might change his mind” about taking the challenging job in the first place.

9:25 a.m. Bills: Pot, Money, Glottal Stops

Beginning at 10 a.m., the Senate Judiciary and Labor committee will hear more than a dozen bills relating to collective bargaining and public employee salaries and benefits. The hearing, in Conference Room 016, could be touchy, given the pressures of the budget deficit.

Meanwhile, at 2:45 p.m. in Conference Room 229, the Senate Health Committee will hear a number of measures including Senate Bill 174, which would classify marijuana as a less dangerous drug than heroin and cocaine.

And, at 10:30 a.m. in Conference Room 329, House Bill 710 and House Bill 709 address — respectively — consultation with Hawaiian cultural practitioners when burial artifacts and remains are found and requiring the use of a glottal stop in the spelling of “Hawai‘i” in all documents and signs prepared by or for state or county agencies or officials.

8:46 a.m. Tea Partier Bachmann In Town

Michelle Bachmann will speak at the Ala Moana Hotel today from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., but it’s a closed-door affair — the media is allowed to attend but not record what she has to say. (There will be a short media Q&A afterwards, we’re told.)

(NOTE: Organizers later relented and allowed recordings, video and photographs but canceled the Q&A. Civil Beat will report on Bachmann’s talk later.)

The paid event is hosted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, which purports to be a strong advocate of transparency … just not this time.

Outside the hotel, by the way, will be a protest under the theme “Don’t Betray our Troops, Rep. Bachmann!” The event is free and open to the public.

Bachmann is also expected to appear at Cafe O’Lei at the Dunes 1333 Maui Lani Parkway, Kahului, Maui, tonight at 5:30 p.m. It’s a paid event as well.

Senate Hearings for Four Cabinet Picks

Beginning at 8:30 a.m. in Conference Room 211, Budget Director Kalbert Young and Tax Director Fred Pablo will find out how much love they have at the Legislature as Ways and Means considers their confirmations.

At 1:15 p.m. Transportation Director Glenn Okimoto seeks confirmation before Transportation and International Affairs.

And at 2:45 p.m. in Conference Room 224, Hawaiian Home Lands Chairman Albert Nahale-a has his confirmation before Hawaiian Affairs.

All four appointments require full Senate confirmation.

Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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