The Hawaii House of Representatives will vote Friday on a civil unions bill that, based on a head count, has the votes to pass out of the House and go back to the Hawaii Senate for consideration.
If the Senate likes what it sees — several key senators have indicated that they will accept the House’s amended version of Senate Bill 232 — civil unions legislation will be sent to Gov. Neil Abercrombie this month.
As introduced, SB 232 was identical to House Bill 444, the bill vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle last July. Only the implementation date was changed.
But on Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee amended the measure based on several recommendations from the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office.
In written testimony, Attorney General David Louie and Deputy Attorney General Heide Rian wrote that the unamended bill “would be legally viable and defensible” but that it contained “some omissions and ambiguities that could make implementation difficult.”
To improve the bill’s chances, Louie and Rian proposed five changes, four of which were adopted by House Judiciary.
The amended SB 232 is now a stronger, more equitable bill. But it still falls short in key areas, according to the AG’s office and a major civil unions advocacy group.
First, let’s look at the recommendations of the attorneys general — what the House Judiciary accepted, and what it did not.
• Applying all provisions of the Internal Revenue Code that apply to a husband and wife in Hawaii to a civil unions couple.
• Giving Family Court jurisdiction over annulment, divorce and separation of civil unions.
• Making sure that language denoting “the spousal relationship” is codified.
• Strengthening the bill’s section addressing the recognition of out-of-state civil unions in Hawaii.
Rep. Gil Keith-Agaran, chairman of House Judiciary, told Civil Beat that his committee felt that the additional language will help government agencies such as the Department of Health in administering civil unions should they become law.
• Granting civil unions partners the same status as married individuals when it comes to adoption. State law currently only allows an unmarried person or any person married to the legal father or mother of a minor child, or a husband and wife jointly, to adopt a child.
Why did House Judiciary pass on the recommendation?
Keith-Agaran would only say, “We didn’t think we needed to.”
Now, let’s look at the recommendations of Citizens for Equal Rights, an advocacy group representing more than 1,000 members of the community both straight and gay.
In its testimony, President Rachel Orange called SB 232 “a hopeful step in the direction of providing equality and justice for all families through civil unions.”
But Orange also suggested 10 amendments “that would assist in the ease of implementation and interpretation. … Common decency and our sense of justice and aloha demand it.”
Only three of those amendments were accepted — the recommendations of the attorneys general on tax returns, termination and out-of-state unions.
The eight that were rejected included similar concerns about SB 232’s language on recognizing out-of-state civil unions, and the lack of language on adoptions.
Others address workers’ compensation benefits, health and retirement benefits for surviving spouses.
Keith-Agaran said he reviewed the recommendations.
There was also a Feb. 1 memo from Deputy Attorney General Rian to House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro that raised many of the same points and was read by many lawmakers.
“But what I was more interested in doing was making sure that the state agencies that have to implement SB 232 are comfortable with the bill we are putting out,” said Keith-Agaran.
Will SB 232 pass the House Friday?
“I think that the vote on the floor is always hard to predict,” Keith-Agaran said. “We just need a simple majority, but a simple majority of members (Democrats) is preferred. Obviously, some have rethought their positions. This is one of those issues where members have very different views on things. I leave it up to leadership to determine and I’ll guess we’ll what happens.”
As for passage on the Senate floor, Keith-Agaran expected Senate Judiciary and Labor Chairman Clayton Hee to fully consider the bill.
“He did not have the benefit of the AG when he heard his bill, but he is a very reasonable person and he will look at our draft — assuming it passes out of the House — sometime next week,” he said. “Then he will let us know if this issue is done for the session or not.”
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