Welcome to Capitol Watch. The Hawaii Legislature is in full swing and Gov. Neil Abercrombie is delivering straight talk that’s not always welcome. Civil Beat is reporting on all of it.

3:45 Power Outage Close Honolulu District Court

A statement this afternoon from the Hawaii State Judiciary:

A power outage that occurred today at 2:00 p.m. at the Honolulu District Court courthouse at 1111 Alakea Street has effectively shut down the building’s electricity and telephone lines. The courthouse, also known as Kauikeauoli Hale, is closed for the rest of the day and was vacated except for certain Judiciary employees. Court officials anticipate they will be able to reopen the building tomorrow morning as usual.

As a result of the outage, the Hawaii Supreme Court has issued an order extending — by one day — any Honolulu district court matter with a filing or hearing due date of February 14. Any party whose case was scheduled during the afternoon calendar but who was unable to appear because of the outage, should call 538-5767 for civil cases or 538-5500 for traffic cases.

3:16 p.m. Hirono, Hanabusa ‘No’ On Patriot Act

House Republicans succeeded in passing revisions to the Patriot Act today, 275-144. Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa voted in the minority.

H.R. 514 extends “expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 and Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 relating to access to business records, individual terrorists as agents of foreign powers, and roving wiretaps until December 8, 2011.”

The House GOP failed to get the extensions passed just last week. But the bill now goes to the U.S. Senate.

2:54 p.m. Kaauwai Hates Obama Budget

Jonah Kaauwai of the local GOP had this to say about the president’s proposed budget:

“There is not one drop of fiscal responsibility in President Obama’s proposed budget, it is completely out of control. $1.6 trillion of the $3.7 trillion budget is deficit spending and money that we don’t have. 43% of this proposed budget will be borrowed money that we will be asking our children and grand children to pay for, this is completely irresponsible. To put this year’s budget deficit into context, when you compare dollars to seconds, 1 million seconds equals 12 days, 1 billion seconds equals 32 years and 1 trillion seconds equals 31,688 years. This year’s budget deficit of $1.6 trillion translated into seconds equals over 50,000 years.

“The only thing to look forward to with this budget is the fact that now Majority Republicans in the House have an actual proposal to work with. I am confident that unlike the President, they will take the task of reducing the enormous cost of government seriously.”

1:59 p.m. Inouye Welcomes Federal Rail Support

Dan Inouye released the following statement on the FY 2012 Budget Request for Honolulu rail

“I am very pleased that President Obama recognizes the importance of the Honolulu rail transit project and has made it a top priority in his FY2012 budget request. Thousands of Oahu residents battle traffic gridlock everyday trying to make their way into and out of town from the West side of the island. This project will bring welcome relief to those commuters who have watched their quality of life deteriorate due to hours spent sitting in their cars on congested roadways.

We have debated and planned this project for decades and the time to act is now. It is encouraging that President Obama, a born and raised Honolulu man all too familiar with Oahu’s traffic woes, is dedicated to helping create jobs and lessen Hawaii’s dependence on imported oil by providing an affordable alternative to driving. I remain committed to this project and will continue to do everything I can to direct federal funds to the work and ensure its timely completion.”

Inouye will attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the project Feb. 22.

11:52 a.m. Senate To Vote On Civil Unions Tomorrow

The Hawaii Senate voted on voice vote today to accept House referral of Senate Bill 232 establishing Hawaii civil unions.

That sets up a final vote on the Senate floor Tuesday.

If that votes goes as an earlier Senate vote on SB 232 went — the vote was 19-6 on an unamended version of the bill — civil unions legislation will quickly be sent to the governor for his signature.

Clayton Hee said Senate Judiciary and Labor reviewed the House amendments to SB 232, consulted with both opponents and supporters of the measure and talked with staff attorneys.

“While the words could have been better, they do not rise to the level of disagreement,” said Hee.

In other news, Russell Kokubun received unanimous confirmation buy the Senate as agriculture director.

11:14 a.m. Birther Bills In 10 State Legislatures

Not in the Hawaii Legislature, of course.

But Politico reports that “lawmakers in at least 10 states have introduced bills requiring presidential candidates to provide some form of proof that they are natural-born citizens, a ballot qualification rule designed to address widespread rumors on the right that (President) Obama was not born in the United States.”

The article continues:

The birther controversy resurfaced in recent weeks when newly elected Hawaii Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a friend of Obama’s parents, promised to investigate the issue and finally put to rest rumors that he was born in Kenya or Indonesia. Abercrombie later backtracked, citing the state’s privacy laws.

10:30 a.m. Decision Making on Soda Tax

Senate Health will hear at 4 p.m. in Conference Room 229 Senate Bill 1289, which “promotes safety and health in Hawaii through increases in the liquor tax” and “by assessing a new sugary beverage fee.”

The revenue would be used for programs related to nutrition and health.

Groups like the Hawaii Initiative for Childhood Obesity Research and Education support the bill, which would add a 10 cent charge to a 12-oz. can of soda; retailers and bottlers do not.

Another soda tax bill, Senate Bill 1179, is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday at 2:45 p.m. in Conference Room 229.

9:55 a.m. Inouye Likes Obama Budget

Dan Inouye said in a statement today that he welcomed President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request and still hates the proposal from House Republicans:

“The President’s budget request balances the need for fiscal austerity with the understanding that immediate and reckless cuts would endanger our economic recovery and undermine the ability of future generations of Americans to compete in the global marketplace. I strongly support the President’s desire to put us on a path toward serious deficit reduction, while at the same time making the necessary investments to ensure America remains the engine that drives the world’s economy. …

“The President’s budget stands in stark contrast to the proposal put forward by House Republicans for the current fiscal year, which consists of reckless cuts thrown together in a poorly thought out effort to arrive at an arbitrary dollar figure. The House Republican bill would put hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work and cripple the ability of government to carry out some of its most basic functions. …”

Hearing On Union Benefits Continues

Senate Judiciary and Labor will resume a hearing that ran long on Friday — a hearing that deals with legislation that would cut benefits for state and county workers.

It begins at 9:15 a.m. in Conference Room 016.

Friday’s hearing featured Neil Abercrombie defending the cuts and labor unions angry at the governor.

Of note: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser‘s Political Radar blog offers visitors the opportunity to download an mp3 ringtone featuring a quote the governor delivered at the hearing:

“I am the governor. I’m not your pal. I’m not your counselor. I am the governor. And I am determined to be truthful with everybody about what we have to do together to survive.”

Tourist Pubs, TAT and GET

House Water, Land and Ocean Resources will hear at 9 a.m. House Bill 548, 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 go onto private lands that are not open to the public.”

A Senate committee on Friday amended the Senate companion, Senate Bill 1207, to call for a task force to study the issue.

Also scheduled in the same hearing is House Bill 460, which authorizes a county to levy a one-half per cent surcharge on state general excise tax and use the tax “for county water infrastructure, including drainage improvements, wastewater infrastructure, and reclaimed water infrastructure.”

It would appear that the GET is not entirely off-limits this session.

House Water, Land and Ocean Resources will also consider several bills that tweak the conveyance tax.

Speaking of taxes, at 10:20 a.m. in Conference Room 312, House Tourism will consider two resolutions that urge the governor not to touch the counties’ share of the transient accommodations tax. Resolutions are non-binding but carry symbolic weight.

Hearing On Homeless In Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kakaako

House Tourism will hold an informational briefing at 10 a.m. in Conference Room 312 to get an update on the growing homeless populations in major tourist areas on Oahu.

Speakers will include Darlene Hein of Waikiki Care-A-Van and Tony Ching of the Hawaii Community Development Authority.

Charging For Plastic Bags

Senate Economic Development and Technology will decide at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 016 what to do about Senate Bill 1363, which requires businesses to collect a 25 cent offset fee for distribution of every non-reusable checkout bag (read: plastic) and provides for the Department of Health to collect 75 percent of the offset fee to be used for administration and enforcement.

The idea is to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags. Environmentalists like the bill, manufacturers of plastic bags don’t, but some retailers appear open to the idea of a fee as long as there is an exemption made for hot takeout food.

Medical Marijuana ‘Compassion Centers’

Senate Health at 4 p.m. in Conference Room 229 will hear Senate Bill 1458, which would license “compassion centers” for the distribution of medical marijuana as well as allow for cultivation and taxation of med pot.

Sand Restoration at Makaha Beach

Maile Shimabukuro has helped organized a volunteer sand-restoration effort today and tomorrow at Makaha Beach. Heavy equipment will move sand from another part of the beach to replenish about 1,800 cubic yards of erosion, according to a press release from the state Senate.

The project comes ahead of the Buffalo’s Big Board Surfing Classic, scheduled to begin Feb. 19.

“It is critical that we get the work done immediately since the winter surf season is in full swing,” said Shimabukuro, the area’s state senator and former House representative.

(UPDATE: This message comes from the Senate Communications Office: “Private companies and community members were able to complete work on Makaha Surfing Beach today. The sand restoration project was initially expected to take two days to finish, Feb. 14 and Feb. 15.)

Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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