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.

In a very, very crowded Conference Room 229 — the idea of legalizing pot attracted a lot of folks (see details near the bottom of this page) — representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office and the Department of Public Safety told senators that Senate Bill 1460 is a very bad idea.

“It sends the wrong message and it would be difficult to enforce,” said Keith Kamita, who administers the state’s medical marijuana program and is the governor’s appointment to be Deputy Director of Law Enforcement for DPS

Sens. Josh Green and Clayton Hee said the bill is designed to alleviate overcrowded prisons by making possession of less than an ounce a civil fine, and to help people in need of the medicinal benefits of pot. It will reduce costs to the criminal justice system, they said, pointing to a recent study.

The asked, Is there any middle ground, any compromise possible?

Law enforcement’s answer: fuggetaboutit.

The Senate Judiciary and Health committees voted to pass the measure anyway — unanimously.

4:08 p.m. Coffman to Become House Energy/Environment Chair

With the news that Rep. Mina Morita is in line to become the new chair of the Public Utilities Commission, House leaders need to think about what happens to all the bills making their way through her Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection.

Morita said Thursday she’d keep her seat as a legislator until after she’s confirmed by the Hawaii Senate. Her imminent departure from the Legislature will continue Kauai lawmakers’ game of musical chairs. Last year, Gary Hooser resigned his Senate seat to run for lieutenant governor and was replaced by former Kauai Councilman Ron Kouchi, who won re-election. Roland Sagum lost his primary fight against Dee Morikawa. Of the island’s four-person delegation, only Jimmy Tokioka has remained stable.

Whenever Morita does resign, Gov. Neil Abercrombie will need to pick a replacement from a list provided by the Democratic Party. But that replacement will not become chair of Morita’s committee. That job will fall to Vice Chair Denny Coffman, a Big Island Democrat.

Coffman, like Morita, was part of the dissident faction that hoped to replace Calvin Say as speaker, so the leadership balance between the two rival groups will not be tipped by his ascension. If Say or any other lawmaker wants to install someone other than Coffman as chair of the committee, they’ll need to offer a resolution similar to the one that established roles at the start of the session.

Michael Levine

2:22 p.m. Paying For the Akaka Bill

The Akaka bill may be on life-support in the U.S. Seate, but the state may still pay for establishing recognition of a Hawaiian nation.

House Bill 1627, set to be heard at 9:45 a.m. tomorrow — yes, Saturday — in Conference Room 329, would “establishes procedures for state recognition of a first nation government” and appropriate funds accordingly.

It’s the only bill on the schedule, and it will be heard by House Hawaiian Affairs. The dollar amount is not specified.

Even if HB 1627 makes it out of this committee, it faces tough questioning in House Judiciary and House Finance.

1:22 p.m. The Return of Atomic Monkey

He’s baaaaack.

Keith Rollman, the Mufi Hannemann political henchman, has resurrected his notorious Atomic Monkey website for 2011. The site was shutdown during Hannemann’s campaign because of the unrelenting sarcasm used to skewer Neil Abercrombie.

“Now with 30 percent more sarcasm,” the page boasts today.

Currently featured: An item linking Ben Cayetano to Cliff Slater, Panos Prevedouros, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii and the anti-rail lobby.

Excerpt:

The biggest question of all, and one the local media seems to care less about, is who is so dammed interested in killing rail enough to fund all this nonsense?  Too bad “think tanks” don’t have to disclose the source of their funding or expenditures for “educational and research” endeavors.

12:40 p.m. Senators Approve Abercrombie’s $1M ‘Emergency’ Request

The Senate Ways and Means Committee passed Senate Bill 1286, approving $1.06 million in “emergency” funds for Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s office and another $300,000 for Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz‘s office for the current fiscal year.

The governor’s office has said its current budget will run out in March.

All nine senators in attendance voted yes: Pohai Ryan, Will Espero, Kalani English, Suzanne Chun Oakland, Michelle Kidani, David Ige, Donna Mercado Kim, Ronald Kouchi, and Gilbert Kahele.

This approval isn’t the last step.

Since the bill was only referred to one committee — Ways and Means — once it’s finalized, it will be scheduled for a third reading and full Senate floor vote. If approved, it would cross over to the House.

The House version of the bill — H.B. 1059 — hasn’t had any hearings as of Friday afternoon. The bill would have to become law before any money is released.

—Nanea Kalani

11:23 a.m. Senate Judiciary Approves McKenna Nomination

Sabrina McKenna received unanimous confirmation from the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee this morning. Her nomination to the Hawaii Supreme Court now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

The news was received with resounding applause by the packed Conference Room 016 at the Capitol.

In her testimony, McKenna thanked those who opposed her nomination because of their passion for Hawaii’s judiciary.

McKenna also said she was shocked that someone put up a Facebook page in her name this week that she knew nothing about. She said she does not believe judges should “friend” people because they may eventually come before them in court.

10:50 a.m. Bar Association Says McKenna Is Qualified

The Hawaii State Bar Association‘s board of directors has given a qualified rating to Judge McKenna, a strong indicator that McKenna’s nomination will receive Senate Judiciary approval.

The bar’s vote will remain confidential, however.

Meanwhile, Chairman Hee first called all those who oppose McKenna to testify first.

Only one man did, who spoke on behalf of “the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” The gentleman said McKenna would favor a “homosexual agenda” and that if senators did not vote against her nomination they would stand in judgement before the Lord.

Now, it’s all McKenna supporters testifying, including Avi Soifer. Also in attendance are Eric Seitz and Steve Levinson.

10:13 a.m. McKenna Hearing Is SRO

There is not an empty seat in Conference Room 016, which is packed with supporters of Sabrina McKenna.

Judiciary Chair Clayton Hee says 93 of the just over 100 letters of testimony are in support of McKenna’s nomination to the high court; five are in opposition, including four who object to McKenna’s sexual orientation; one apparently lost a case before McKenna; and one says Hee should recuse himself because he supports civil unions.

Hee says he will not recuse himself and says sexual orientation will not be a factor in the confirmation.

If time permits, the Judiciary Committee could have decision making on McKenna today.

9:36 a.m. Earmarks Not Entirely Dead

In the wake of this week’s announcement of a two-year ban on federal earmarks — including more than $320 million for Hawaii — there’s already talk that not every earmark will be stopped.

Congress.org writes:

While earmarking is out of vogue in the current anti-spending climate, pressure for specific items inevitably will build from individual members or blocs of lawmakers to protect money for favored projects.

Lawmakers may come up with new ways to describe this process, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., said.

“The description may change to make them more palatable,” Lautenberg said. “Right now, earmarks are a dirty word.”

Moreover, budget watchers are wondering whether the House and Senate will agree on the fine print of an earmark ban.

McKenna Confirmation Hearing At 10 a.m.

Neil Abercrombie‘s nominee for associate justice of the Hawaii Supreme CourtSabrina McKenna — will go before the Senate Judiciary and Labor committee beginning at 10 a.m. in Conference Room 016.

McKenna, a judge on the 1st Circuit Court, is the governor’s first judicial appointment. If confirmed by the full Senate, she will be the second female justice to sit on the current high court.

Attorney Robert Thomas, who runs a local legal blog, predicts, “We’re guessing this confirmation hearing will not generate much opposition, so the hearing will be more like Justice Recktenwald’s, and not like Judge Leonard’s.”

Up In Smoke at the Ledge

At 3 p.m. in Conference Room 229, two Senate committees will hear Senate Bill 1460, a measure which would significantly alter the way Hawaii legally treats marijuana and its consumers.

Here’s the summary:

Establishes a civil violation for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana that is subject to a fine of not more than $100. Deletes reporting requirements of Board of Education for students possessing one ounce or less of marijuana. Clarifies that medical marijuana patients and primary caregiver may assert affirmative defense to prosecution, criminal or civil, involving possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. Excludes possession of more than one ounce of marijuana from authority of Hawaii paroling authority to require paroled prisoner to undergo and complete substance abuse treatment. Excludes possession of more than one ounce of marijuana from authority of courts to require a defendant to undergo and complete substance abuse treatment for probation violation. Clarifies definition of detrimental drug to exclude one ounce or less of marijuana. Excludes possession of one ounce or less of marijuana from offenses of promoting a detrimental drug in the second degree and third degree. Clarifies that possession of one ounce or less of marijuana does not constitute a possession with intent to distribute without other conduct indicating an intent to distribute for purposes of promoting controlled substance in or near schools, school vehicles, or public parks. Clarifies a civil violation for possession of marijuana does not constitute a prior offense for purposes of the conditional discharge law.

SB 1460 was introduced by 20 of the 25 senators including Shan Tustsui, Clayton Hee, Sam Slom and Donna Mercado Kim, suggesting the bill has a good shot at passing (the Senate, at least).

Interestingly, another pot bill — Senate Bill 1459 — has been deleted from the agenda for the same hearing.

SB 1459 “establishes licensure of producers, processors, and dispensers of medical marijuana. Requires secure registration system. Reserves authority to regulate medical use of marijuana to the State. Directs the auditor to conduct a cost-benefit evaluation.”

(By coincidence, the same hearing will also consider bills on a workplace wellness project and coverage of infertility treatments. Ahem.)

Civil Beat has also put together a full list of marijuana bills: Bill Watch: Marijuana

And, on a related note and in the same Conference Room 229 beginning at 3:45 p.m., two Senate committees will hear Senate Bill 1458, which does the following:

Creates three classes of medical marijuana licenses: class 1 medical marijuana compassion center license for the sale of medical marijuana to qualified patients; class 2 medical marijuana cultivation license; class 3 medical marijuana-infused products manufacturing license. Specifies requirements for each class. Makes medical marijuana sales subject to income and excise taxes. Establishes a special marijuana sales tax on sales of medical marijuana. Establishes a fee for issuance and renewal of a license and a special marijuana sales tax. Takes effect 8/7/2012.

And, on a related-related note, the House Agriculture Committee will meet at 9 a.m. in Conference Room 312 to hear a number of bills — including House Bill 1275, which “provides a grant to the 4 Ag Hawaii nonprofit corporation to expand its ‘Buy Local, It Matters’ campaign.”

That it does.


Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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