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.

4:42 p.m. Inouye Disses GOP Budget Proposal

Dan Inouye issued a statement today in response to the proposed concurrent resolution for the federal budget that has been introduced by U.S. House Republicans.

As explained in a Wall Street Journal article, the GOP wants “deep cuts” in the revised spending bill.

Here’s what Inouye thinks about that:

“It is clear from this proposal that House Republicans are committed to pursuing an ineffective approach to deficit reduction that attempts to balance the budget on the back of domestic discretionary investments, which constitute only a small percentage of overall federal spending. The priorities identified in this proposal for some of the largest cuts —environmental protection, healthcare, energy, science and law enforcement — are essential to the current and future well-being of our economy and communities across the country. Such an approach would knock the legs out from under our nascent economic recovery, kill jobs, and do virtually nothing to address the long-term fiscal crisis facing our country. Try as they might to convince the American people otherwise, it is simply not possible to balance the budget by targeting 15 percent of federal spending — no matter how deep the cuts are.  

“I am disturbed that some Republicans have indicated a willingness to allow a government shutdown. No responsible elected official should even consider such an option. The consequences of a shutdown would be immediate and dire, including potential disruptions of Social Security and tax refund payments, and significant damage to our nation’s economy and job creation.

“We can find the right balance when it comes to discretionary spending — one that meets the essential needs of our citizens while ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. I look forward to meeting that challenge in the coming weeks, as we negotiate a final agreement on funding the government for the remainder of the fiscal year.”

4:10 p.m. Flags to Fly at Half-Staff for 442nd Vet

Gov. Abercrombie has ordered all Hawaii flags at all state offices and agencies and the Hawaii National Guard to be flown at half-staff beginning sunrise tomorrow until sunset on Monday.

It’s in honor of the late Barney Fushimi Hajiro, the Maui boy, Army private and member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who, during World War II, “ran 100 yards through a stream of bullets to lead the charge of his unit up ‘Suicide Hill’ to take down the enemy,” according to a press release from the governor’s office. “This and other acts of bravery earned him the Purple Heart and the Medal of Honor.”

3:55 p.m. Publisher Liability Bill Gutted In Senate

The Senate Economic Development and Technology Committee passed Senate Bill, which would “hold authors and publishers of visitor websites and publications liable to readers who suffer injury or death as a result of being enticed to trespass.”

But the bill was amended in such a way that it now calls for a task force to study the issue, meaning that online publishers can breathe easier … but not for long.

That’s because the House version of the legislation, House Bill 548, will be heard Monday at 9 a.m. by House Water, Land and Ocean Resources in Conference Room 325. HB 548 says nothing about a task force.

2:03 p.m. Dela Cruz: Aila Has ‘Tremendous’ Support

The nomination of longtime Waianae Harbormaster William Aila Jr. to head the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources will take center stage Saturday afternoon when the Senate’s Water, Land and Housing Committee holds its public hearing.

Chair Donovan Dela Cruz told Civil Beat Friday that his committee has received “a tremendous amount of testimony in support” of Aila and just one item in opposition. (No testimony had been posted to the Capitol website as of this writing.)

“So far, what we’ve learned based on the testimony is that he’s dedicated to the community, he wants to make a difference, he’s passionate about the department,” Dela Cruz said.

He said his committee takes its advise-and-consent responsibility seriously and will examine Aila’s experience, ability and history. Dela Cruz already has a list of questions in mind.

What the committee won’t do is be swayed by rumors or “idle gossip.”

“The people who might present questions … they need to state their facts in a public forum so that the Senate can consider it,” Dela Cruz said. “Otherwise it’s hearsay.”

“This is not supposed to be a show, this is not supposed to be a circus, this is not supposed to be a witch hunt.”

Michael Levine

1:42 p.m. House Passes Civil Unions

By a vote of 31-19, the state House approved an amended version of Senate Bill 232, which would legalize Hawaii civil unions beginning Jan. 1, 2011.

(The House has 51 members, but Democrat Rida Cabanilla was absent and did not vote.)

The vote came after floor debate that demonstrated that House members hold serious differences of opinion when it comes to civil unions.

Republican Gene Ward quoted Shakespeare — “a rose by any other name” — to argue that civil unions is really marriage and will thus eventually lead to same-sex marriage.

He also said some churches, mosques and synagogues may be upset by civil unions, and that that could lead to the rise of “hate speech.”

Ward thus opposes SB 232.

Another opponent, Democrat John Mizuno, said he resented that some people think opponents of SB 232 are “haters and bigots.” Mizuno said his vote was based on his Christian faith.

But Democrat Gil Keith-Agaran said civil unions is not a threat to marriage but rather allows people who care for each other but who can’t get married to have a social contract with rights and benefits.

Democrat Blake Oshiro, who is gay, said those who believe civil unions is really marriage “haven’t read the bill.”

Dozens of supporters and opponents of civil unions listened quietly (except for occasional applause) in the gallery as House members deliberated.

In a rare moment of levity, Democrat Tom Brower said he was not gay, though many people think he is, in part because he represents Waikiki, a district with a sizable gay population.

SB 232 now heads back to the Senate floor for consideration. If approved by that Chamber, civil unions could end up on the governor’s desk as early as next week.

1:30 p.m. Invocation and Gambling in the House

The House opened its floor session this afternoon with an invocation by the Rev. Glenn Nochi of Bodaiji Mission.

Referencing Sir Isaac Newton, Nochi observed that “for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.”

And, the House voted to keep alive bills on shipboard gambling and bingo on Hawaiian home lands.

12:40 p.m. Union Members Mock Gov At Hearing

State retirees and public union leaders showed up in full force at the Capitol Friday in opposition to two bills Gov. Neil Abercrombie says can help address the state’s budget shortfall.

Several people — including members of public sector unions such as the HGEA, HSTA and SHOPO — were very disrespectful during the governor’s testimony, mocking him from the audience and laughing dismissively when he spoke.

The reason was Senate Bills 1268 and 1269.

The first bill proposes to eliminate state-funded reimbursements for Medicare Part B premiums for retirees. The second bill would change the definition of “compensation” for calculating the state’s contributions toward pensions to no longer include such things as overtime or lump sum payments.

The governor testified in person in support of the two measures, two among nine on the agenda. Retirees, unions and police officers testified against the bills.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor hearing will reconvene Monday at 9 a.m.

—Nanea Kalani

10:16 a.m. HGEA Retirees Protest Cuts To Benefits

About a dozen women carrying signs that identified them as Hawaii Government Employees Association retirees showed up to Karl Rhoads‘ House Labor and Public Employment Committee to let it be known they oppose House Bill 1041.

HB 1041 would eliminate Medicare Part B reimbursements “for retired employee-beneficiaries and the spouses of employee-beneficiaries who are retired employees.” It would effect a total of 39,000 people, most of them state and county workers.

The bill comes from Neil Abercrombie, and he sent Budget and Finance Director Kalbert Young to explain to the lawmakers that the savings to the state would be $89 million over the next two fiscal years. Besides, the administration feels the reimbursements are unfair.

The HGEA retirees feel differently. Before the hearing they griped to each other that they had been promised the benefits when they were hired.

One retiree, Gwen Dang, told Rhoads’ committee that the cuts will hurt the elderly, many of them disabled, who rely on a fixed income. Although the average monthly payment is just $96 a month, Dang says that every little bit helps.

Rhoads’ committee decided to pass the bill but to amend it so that the cuts would be phased in rather than all at once and to base the reimbursement based in part on length of employment. Rhoads also warned that the bill represents a “major policy shift” that may have serious ramifications such as making hard to attract future hires.

“I prefer a tax increase of some kind,” he said.

The HGEA retirees were not present for decision-making, however. They had all left to attend a Senate hearing where the Senate companion of HB 1041 was being heard. And they took their signs with them.

Aila Hearing Saturday

The confirmation hearing of William Aila is scheduled for tomorrow at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 225 before the Senate Water, Land and Housing Committee. There could be some tough questioning about Aila’s activist past.

Also on Saturday, at 10 a.m. in Conference Room 229, the Senate Public Safety, Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee will meet to hear a slate of bills, including ones on state procurement laws, the selling and leasing of public buildings and county eminent domain authority.

Also scheduled is Senate Bill 1426, which seeks to take $200 million from funds generated by Honolulu’s surcharge on the GET to pay for rail and give it to the state’s general fund and issue $300 million in bonds to offset the loss to the City and County.

Medicare, Health, Retirement and Collective Bargaining

Senate Judiciary and Labor will hear nine bills addressing critical issues such as Employees’ Retirement System benefits, elimination of Medicare Part B reimbursements and emergency funding for state worker health benefits.

Many of the measures are from the Abercrombie administration, which has asked for shared sacrifice to balance the state’s budget. House companions for some of those bills will be heard in House Labor and Public Employment at 9 a.m. in Conference Room 309.

And, at 11 a.m. in Conference Room 309, two House committees will consider bills that create collective bargaining units for state law enforcement officers and emergency first responders.

Tourist Pubs and Shark Feeding

Decision-making is scheduled today on Senate Bill 1207, which would hold authors and publishers of visitor websites and publications “liable to readers who suffer injury or death as a result of being enticed to trespass” (although it also exempts property owners from liability).

Here’s what my editor thinks about the bill. (Hint: Baaaad bill.)

The Senate Economic Development and Technology Committee will meet at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 016, where bills on cyberbullying, biofuels and allowing for electronic filing of state taxes will also be decided.

And, at 9 a.m. in Conference Room 325, a bill restricting shark feeding will be heard.

Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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