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.

1:59 p.m. Abercrombie Welcomes SB 232’s Passage

In a statement on the passage of civil unions, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said the following:

“I have always believed that civil unions respect our diversity, protect people’s privacy, and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha.

“I appreciate all the time and effort invested by those who shared their thoughts and concerns regarding civil unions in Hawaii. This has been an emotional process for everyone involved, but that process is now ended. Everyone has been heard; all points of view respected.

“For me, this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii.”

The administration says that a media advisory regarding details on bill signing for SB 232 will be forthcoming.

12:39 p.m. Senate Passes Civil Unions

On an 18-5 vote, the state Senate voted to pass Senate Bill 232, sending civil unions legislation to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for his expected signature.

Voting “no” on the measure were Republican Sam Slom and Democrats Will Espero, Donna Mercado Kim, Donavan Dela Cruz and Mike Gabbard.

Two other Democrats, Ron Kouchi and Brian Tanighuchi, were absent.

“We are making a big mistake rushing this bill through,” said Gabbard, who argued that the bill is flawed and could invite legal challenges, and that its passage would anger many in the community.

Gabbard also likened civil unions to marriage, and said that blood relatives would not be allowed to enter a civil union.

He also said the state should “give up” being in the marriage business. “It’s a religious ceremony to be left to the churches,” he said.

Sam Slom said the Legislature has more pressing business to address, like passing a budget, and observed that SB 232 does not address all the concerns about the bill — such as adoption rights — raised by the state attorney general.

But a supporter of SB 232, Brickwood Galuteria, said, “We are here today to stand up for human rights, not special rights. … Let’s move this bill so we indeed have justice for all. … Let us be the people of aloha we are meant to be.”

Clayton Hee noted that civil unions will extend to Sabrina McKenna, her companion and life partner and their three children. “They now get the same entitlement as other parents,” said Hee.

An exchange that occurred between Slom and Hee was sometimes heated — talk of “losers” and flags, for example — and elicited applause and hoots from not only both opponents and supporters of SB 232 in the Senate gallery, but on the Senate floor itself.

The governor now has 10 legislative days to sign SB 232, the first legislation to be sent to him as governor.

A formal signing ceremony is likely to be held at Washington Place, where the governor can invite stakeholders to participate in the historic occasion.

11:46 a.m. McKenna Confirmed To High Court

The state Senate voted unanimously to confirm Sabrina McKenna to the Hawaii Supreme Court as associate justice.

McKenna, a judge on the 1st Circuit Court, is Gov. Abercrombie’s first judicial appointment.

“Her reputation in the legal community is exemplary,” said Clayton Hee, chairman of Senate Judiciary and Labor. “There is no doubt that Judge McKenna will continue to excel and offer to others the same qualities she has offered on the circuit and family courts.”

Hee also said McKenna’s appointment marks the first time in state history that the five-member high court has two women on the bench.

Sam Slom, in his strong endorsement of the nominee, said, “I only wonder why it took so long” to place an associate justice as qualified as McKenna on the court.

9:11 a.m. Alston: Medicare Part B Cuts ‘Unconstitutional’

Attorney Paul Alston argues that Gov. Abercrombie’s proposal to eliminate Medicare Part B reimbursements for local government workers won’t stand legal muster because it’s unconstitutional to take benefits away from people who have already earned them.

In an essay written for Civil Beat, Alston writes in part:

The solution to the State’s financial crisis is not to reduce benefits owed to those who already earned them. The benefits of the “retirement system” are part of “a sacred trust” between the state and its employees.

That sacred trust, Alston explains, has legal precedent on its side, meaning Senate Bill 1268 will quite likely be subject to a lawsuit should it become law.

McKenna, Civil Unions Await Senate Votes

Set for 11:30 a.m. in Senate chambers is Senate Bill 232 on civil unions and the confirmation of Sabrina McKenna. Both votes will be historic.

Big Votes On Appointed BOE, Medicare Part B

Senate Bill 8 is scheduled for decision making by House Finance in Conference Room 308.

The measure, the Senate vehicle for implementing the appointment of Board of Education members, appears headed for the governor’s desk.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 1268, Neil Abercrombie‘s proposal to eliminate Medicare Part B reimbursements for retired employee beneficiaries and others, has decision making before Senate Judiciary and Labor at 9:30 a.m. in Conference Room 016.

Sugar, Sugar

Taxing sugary drinks — something proposed in the past but yet to fly — isn’t dead yet.

At 2:45 p.m. in Conference Room 229 Senate Health will hear Senate Bill 1179, which establishes a tax on the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages and creates a children’s health promotion special fund.

That said, a House companion bill has yet to get a hearing

Homeless Tickets, Villages and Job Training

House Bill 70, which establishes “a Return-To-Home Program to assist eligible homeless individuals to return to their home state if there is a support network available and able to receive them,” will be heard at 8:30 a.m. in Conference Room 325.

In that same room at 10:30 a.m. is scheduled House Bill 1450, which would create a jobs training program for homeless people in the Department of Human Services.

And, also in that same room at 10:45 a.m., bills scheduled include House Bill 1489, which would set up a pilot project for “kanaka villages” on Hawaiian home lands.

Akaka Bill, OHA and Ohia

Decision making is scheduled by Senate Hawaiian Affairs on two measures that would enable the state to pave the way for setting up the governing entity proscribed in the Akaka bill. That takes place in Conference Room 224 at 3 p.m.

At 2:45 p.m. in that same room, Senate Bill 284 will be heard by Hawaiian Affairs and Senate Public Safety. The measure establishes a program within the Department of Public Safety “that assigns select, non-violent inmates on a work detail that restores historical sites selected by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.”

And, at 9:30 a.m. in Conference Room 329, scheduled for two House committees is House Bill 1637, which would make ohia lehua the state tree.

Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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