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.

4:13 p.m. Mr. Kouchi Goes To Washington

Ron Kouchi of Kauai has been selected to represent the Hawaii State Senate in this year’s National Conference of State Legislators annual Legislative Leadership seminar.

Kouchi will meet with Hawaii’s congressional members and staff and participate in a select group of legislators who will meet with President Obama at the White House.

The seminar is tomorrow through Friday. 

3:15 p.m. A Disparaging Look At One-Party Rule

Journalist Byron York recently visited Hawaii’s Legislature and didn’t like what he saw.

In an article posted by The Washington Examiner, York says, among other things, the following:

In Hawaii, there are 25 members of the state Senate. Twenty-four are Democrats. And then there is Sam Slom … Republicans fared poorly at the polls in November, and Slom was left alone.

Which means that Democratic bills to increase state spending, to impose new regulations and mandates and to create new government departments are often passed on votes of 24-1. …

Like many states, Hawaii is in a fiscal mess. Yet Senate Democrats have spent extraordinary amounts of time on social issues — most recently, fast-tracking a civil unions bill — and on addressing questions like whether dogs can be kept on tethers.

Meanwhile, Slom complains, “We’re supposed to be doing the budget, we have a major shortfall of $800 million to $1.5 billion, we have underfunded employees’ retirement and health care systems and we haven’t done anything in terms of providing new jobs or investment or capital improvement.”

2:12 p.m. GOP Picks Up On Radcliffe Rant

The Hawaii Republican Party released a statement today that pointed to Civil Beat’s publication yesterday of a speech given by John Radcliffe to university professors over the weekend:

Governor Abercrombie promised the moon and the stars to anyone and everyone who would vote for him last November. But this past Saturday one of his key supporters had remarkable comments about his hope for a New Day in Hawaii and how Abercrombie’s canoe is turning out to be a sinking ship. Today, we don’t have to ask any questions because Abercrombie’s own insiders are saying ‘hmmmm’ for us.” 

1:18 p.m. Inouye Analyzes GOP Budget Plan

Dan Inouye has released a statement offering his detailed analysis of the FY 2011 Continuing Resolution (H.R. 1) on spending that will be considered by the House of Representatives this week.

In short, the King of Earmarks doesn’t like the resolution:

“The impact of H.R. 1 on the ability of the federal government to perform even some of its
most basic functions is, in many instances, severe. The Constitution requires of the government that it ‘ … establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common
defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…’. The House Republican proposal would undermine our ability to live up to these
ideals, and do little to address the long-term fiscal challenges facing our nation.”

Colleen Hanabusa isn’t crazy about it, either. In a press release praising President Obama’s budget plan, she says:

“House Republicans by contrast released a funding measure Friday that is a haphazard collection of cuts to important programs and government functions that ignores the people and programs affected by the reductions in order to fulfill some fantastical campaign promise to lop off $100 billion in federal spending. Their plan does not create jobs and it threatens critical social services and security programs at a time when our economy is turning the corner. That is not in the best interests of the American people.”

12:01 p.m. McKenna Senate Vote Tomorrow

The confirmation of Sabrina McKenna to the Hawaii Supreme Court will receive a full Senate vote tomorrow in Senate chambers. (Prediction: unanimous consent.)

Also on the agenda is a final vote — really! — on civil unions. (Prediction: Likely passage, but one never knows for sure on such a controversial topic.)

In other news, the state Senate unanimously confirmed Kalbert Young as director of the Department of Budget and Finance and Fred Pablo as director of the Department of Taxation

11:01 a.m. President Barack Obama Day?

Yep. That’s what House Bill 1124 calls for.

The bill, introduced by five House Democratic reps, would make Aug. 4 — Barry O’s B-day, natch — President Barack Obama Day.

It would not be a state holiday, however — even for government workers.

HB 1124 is scheduled to be heard Thursday in Conference Room 329 by House Culture and Arts.

10:33 a.m. Civil Unions Deferred Until Tomorrow

The state Senate this morning decided to defer a vote on Senate Bill 232 — the civil unions measure — until tomorrow.

The measure does not appear to be in trouble. Rather, the delay is to comply with Senate rules on bill notification; it also gives senators more time to consider the bill.

According to Shan Tsutsui‘s office, SB 232 will be heard in Senate chambers at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.

9:50 a.m. Poll: GOP Still Doubts Obama Birthplace

Roll Call is reporting that a slim majority of Republicans “are still in disbelief that President Barack Obama, now in his third year in office, was born in the United States and therefore is legally eligible to be president, according to a poll by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.”

The nationwide survey was conducted Feb. 11-13 among 400 Republican primary voters. It has a 4.9-point margin of error.

According to Roll Call:

The survey looked at whom these “birthers” prefer in the 2012 Republican presidential primary contest. Among the 51 percent of Republicans who think Obama was born outside of America, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was preferred by 24 percent, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin by 19 percent, former Speaker Newt Gingrich by 14 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 11 percent.

Obama was, in fact, born at Kapiolani Hospital on Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A. Just ask Neil Abercrombie.

Senate To Vote On Civil Unions

The full state Senate will take up Senate Bill 232 at midday, and all indications are that it will pass the measure out of chambers and send it to the fifth floor for Gov. Abercrombie’s John Hancock.

All indications are that he will sign it, too. Here’s what the governor said in written testimony on SB 232 submitted Jan. 25:

Civil unions respect our diversity, protect people’s privacy and reinforce our core values
of equality and aloha.

For several years now, the State Legislature has been working hard on legislation relating
to civil unions. I commend you for hearing this matter, and continue to support your
efforts to protect people’s civil rights as we enter into this new legislative session.

I am hopeful that the legislative process will bring us together in the spirit of openness
and collaboration to develop legislation that resolves the issues and ensures that all
people of Hawaii will be treated equally.

I look forward to signing such a measure.

Toy Guns and Liquor

Senate Bill 749, which would prohibit the sale of toy guns to kids, gets a hearing in Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection at 9 a.m. in Conference Rom 229.

The bill calls for a steep penalty: a fine of up to $2,000, imprisonment of up to 90 days, or both. Scott Saiki has introduced a similar measure in the House.

Meanwhile, at 8 a.m. in Conference Room 312, the agenda for House Economic Revitalization and Business includes House Bill 1187, which raises the tax on liquor — a lot.

For example, the tax per a wine gallon of hard liquor like gin would increase from $5.98 to $8.97, while the tax per wine gallon on draft beer would go from 54 cents to 81 cents.

Prison and Background Checks

Senate Bill 701 would permit “certain non-violent repeat offenders convicted of drug possession to be sentenced to alternative programs instead of to prison.” It is scheduled before Senate Public Safety at 2:45 p.m. in Conference Room 224.

And House Bill 268 would allows counties to conduct criminal history record checks “on certain: 1) liquor commission employees and prospective employees; 2) prospective employees working with vulnerable adults or seniors; and 3) prospective fire, emergency medical services, and emergency management employees.” A hearing is set before House Judiciary at 2 p.m. in Conference Room 325.

Landfills and Plastic Bags

Decision making by Senate Water, Land and Housing (the oddly paired committee is new this year, by the way) is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 225 on a variety measures including landfills.

Senate Bill 185 would place a moratorium on any new solid waste landfills and the expansion of any existing private solid waste landfills on the Leeward Coast on or after Aug. 11. The bill’s sponsors include lawmakers from the area who represent people feed up with being the dumping grounds of Oahu.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 202 requires public approval from residents within a 1-mile radius for the permitting of a new landfill or the expansion of an existing landfill.

Speaking of trash, in the same room beginning around 2:55 p.m., Senate Bill 1363 — which would charge customers 25 cents for a plastic bag — will be voted on.

Slots, Poker, Spaceports and TAT

Donna Mercado Kim‘s Tourism Committee will hold decision making on bills to ask voters about a constitutional amendment on slot machines and video power, spending money on a spaceport and tweaking the transient accommodations tax.

The hearing is set for 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 224.

East Honolulu Town Hall

Republicans Gene Ward and Sam Slom will hold a community meeting from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Hahaione Elementary School Cafeteria.
“Residents will have the opportunity to share their views on proposed pension tax increases, gambling legislation, civil unions and other topics of concern to the community,” according to a press release. “An update on the Kamilonui Valley farmers’ efforts to preserve their lifestyle will also be provided. Members of the community will also receive an update on the possible closure of Hawaii Kai elementary schools.”

Light refreshments will be served!

Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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