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.

7:45 p.m. ‘Death With Dignity’ Killed

After about five hours of often highly emotional testimony, the Senate Health Committee voted to kill SB 803, the death-with dignity measure.

Three senators — Sam Slom, Maile Shimabukuro and Glenn Wakai — were not present for the vote. One, Roz Baker, voted “aye” with reservations.

Which raises a question: Why bother hearing the bill if there was no serious intent to consider it?

It all seemed a fait accompli, something done to give catharsis to the hundreds who said SB 803 was, effectively, an affront to God.

As Health Chairman Josh Green, a medical doctor who has opposed similar legislation in the past, said at the hearing’s conclusion, the testimony was overwhelmingly opposed to the bill.

“We need to have much more agreement from community, so I recommend we hold it,” he said.

Yet, when that testimony comes from quadriplegics in wheelchairs who say the bill will lead to a Nazi extermination of the “weak,” as was strongly suggested tonight, how could lawmakers vote otherwise?

In fact, SB 803 says nothing about killing anyone. As many testifiers pointed out — correctly — it has everything to do with giving an individual the choice to end his or her life.

“Is it dignified to die with all that equipment and strangers rather than to be at home with loved ones?” asked Marsha Joyner, a supporter of the legislation.

Senators on the Health Committee, it seems, believe that a miracle awaits those who choose life — no matter how painfully and degrading it may be.

3:59 p.m. Inouye Tweets About Earmarks

Dan Inouye today tweeted a link to a New York Times article titled “District Liked Its Earmarks, Then Elected Someone Who Didn’t.”

Inouye, you will remember, recently and reluctantly agreed to place a moratorium on earmakrs for two years.

Here’s an excerpt from the article, which is about Nan Hayworth, who was elected on a Tea Party platform:

The moratorium about to take effect has transformed a largely abstract policy debate in Washington into something very tangible for people in Ms. Hayworth’s district.

Now, civic activists, local officials and residents are scratching their heads, unpersuaded about the soundness of scrapping a system that has provided the district with money for libraries, parks, roads, bridges and the like.

2:42 p.m. Will Djou Take On Akaka?

The National Journal has an article posted today that speculates whether Charles Djou will challenge Dan Akaka in 2012.

In a Pacific Business News article, Djou blasts the “machine politics” and “seniority-based system” that make up Hawaii’s delegation. “As the 112th Congress convened earlier this year, Americans elected a much younger and more dynamic class of Congressional representatives. Hawaii, however, returned the oldest congressional delegation in the nation,” writes Djou in the article published (Feb. 4). “The four members of Hawaii’s current congressional delegation have an average age of 73.”

The National Journal also notes that Linda Lingle may run for the seat and that Akaka has said he is running for re-election — even though he has only raised $66,000 so far.

1:45 p.m. Democratic Party Endorses ‘Death With Dignity’

Just hours before a hearing on a death-with-dignity bill, the Democratic Party of Hawaii says such legislation is a priority.

“Party Chairman Dante Carpenter has informed us that because the Party’s resolution supporting Death With Dignity had received such overwhelming support, including a standing ovation when it passed the May, 2010, State Convention, Senate Bill 803 is deemed ‘a priority issue,'” Scott Foster, communications director for the Hawaii Death With Dignity Society, said in a press release.

Other organizations supporting the legislation include Hawaii Advocates For Consumer Rights, the Hawaii Women’s Political Caucus and the Kokua Council of Seniors.

But the bill is sure to encounter substantial opposition from religious groups and those who favor palliative care.

12:34 p.m. Slots, Poker Bill Passes House Committee

House Tourism today approved House Bill 394, which would allow slot machines and video poker gambling. But the measure was amended to apply not just to Waikiki but all of Oahu.

The bill, which proposes a constitutional amendment so voters can decide on the matter, may also be further amended to apply statewide. It now heads to House Judiciary and House Finance.

In related news, House Tourism also amended and approved two bills regarding an increase in the TAT on time shares and adjusting the TAT rate.

The former bill raises the TAT from 7.25 percent to 9.25 percent — something the administration and many lawmakers want because it would bring in more revenue to the state’s general fund. The latter bill, which would tax time shares at 7.25 percent or $4 a day, would be a softer blow to the visitor industry, which says it is already overtaxed.

As the bills head to House Finance, the administration and lawmakers will no doubt weigh in on what the time share tax should ultimately be.

11:53 a.m. Senate Approves Okimoto, Nahale-a

The Hawaii Senate has unanimously confirmed Glenn Okimoto as director for Department of Transportation and Albert (Alapaki) Nahale-a as chairman of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

11:05 a.m. Poker For Waikiki?

A representative of Full Tilt Poker — “the Fastest Growing Online Poker Room” — told two House committees that it would like to move its Los Angeles customer service center to Honolulu and hold an annual poker tournament here that would attract up to 20,000 visitors.

“Poker is a game of skill, not gambling,” said Manuel Sanchez. “It would create jobs and a revenue stream. And it’s a way to not turn Hawaii into a mini-Las Vegas.”

Rep. Barabara Marumoto was skeptical, however. “Betting is gambling.”

And the Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling warned that allowing gambling into Waikiki would send the state down a dark path in terms of social problems.

But lobbyist John Radcliffe argued that House Bill 394, which would allow slot machines and video poker gambling in Waikiki, would help the state with its budget problems. “This is all about letting the voters decide,” he said.

10:39 a.m. Mufi Hannemann, Tourism Expert

The former Honolulu mayor, who briefed two House committees this morning on tourism, sounded very much like the tourism executive he now is as head of the Hawaii Hotels & Lodging Association.

He told lawmakers that time share units in the state have tripled since 2000, that hotels and resorts have an aging work force, that labor contracts for many hotels will increase operating costs, that travelers are increasingly tech-savvy and looking for deals and that Hawaii’s competitors are aggressively fighting for market share.

His main point: “There could be a false sense of security out there that the hotel industry is back on track because volume and room rates are going up. But we are not out of the woods yet.”

Message: Don’t take marketing funds from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and don’t increase the transient accommodations tax.

In related matters, Hannemann praised Neil Abercrombie for hiring a “homeless czar” to integrate and coordinate the state’s efforts to address homelessness — an issue that directly touches on the visitor experience. As Honolulu mayor, Hannemann worked to clean city parks and facilities of homeless people, which effectively just moved homeless populations from one part of the city to another and did not alleviate the problem.

Death and Taxes

A death with dignity measure, Senate Bill 803, is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. in the Capitol Auditorium.

The bill specifically addresses concerns that have defeated similar measures in previous years. Here’s SB 803’s summary:

Allows a terminally ill, competent adult to receive medication to end life. Prohibits mercy killings, lethal injections, and active euthanasia. Requires informed consent. Allows alternate doctor to replace attending doctor if latter declines to prescribe. Provides immunity from civil and criminal liability for acts taken in good faith. Imposes penalties for unauthorized altering, forging, concealing, destroying, or exerting undue influence in making or rescinding a request for medication. Requires monitor at time of taking dose.

David Ige introduced the bill by request.

In terms of life’s other certainty, taxes, the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association (Mufi Hannemann‘s new kuleana) are invited to brief the House Tourism Committee at 9:45 a.m. in Conference Room 312.

The agenda includes the transient accommodations tax and gambling.

And at 10:30 a.m. in the same room before the same committee, the agenda includes bills that increase the TAT on time shares and changes the TAT rate per unit to a flat $8 a day.

Also on the agenda is a bill that had previously been deferred in House Tourism: House Bill 394, which calls for a constitutional amendment to legalize slot machines and video poker in Waikiki.

Bats and Traps

Senate Bill 878 makes the Hawaiian hoary bat the state land mammal.

Maybe it has something to do with the popularity of vampires … or Batman?

Nope. Turns out that the endangered hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus semotus) is Hawaii’s only land mammal.

Fun fact, according to SB 878: “A single Hawaiian hoary bat can consume forty percent of its body weight in a single night.”

The bat bill is set for 3:15 p.m. in Conference Room 224.

Speaking of the wild House Bill 579 would end the use of body-crushing traps and non-padded foot or leg-hold traps for capturing small game.

“Many animals do not die quickly when trapped, and instead endure prolonged suffering and eventually death,” reads the bill, which is set for 9 a.m. in Conference Room 325.

Bullies and Boards

Senate Bill 8 on an appointed Board of Education receives its first reading before the House Education Committee at 2 p.m. in Conference Room 309.

Bills on school bullying and cyberbullying are scheduled for 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 225.

Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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