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.

7 p.m. House Extends Own Salary Cuts

The House voted to approve House Bill 575, which extends for two years a 5 percent salary cut implemented two years ago.

The cut applies to the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

In other news, the House capped the TAT distribution to counties, agreed to a hike in the liquor tax, repealed tax deductions for high-income earners, taxed pensions for high earners and decided to eliminate some GET deductions for businesses.

4:11 p.m. Time Share TAT Raised 2%

The House, after some debate, agreed to pass House Bill 809, which calls for raising the transient accommodations tax on time shares 2 percent — from 7.25 percent to 9.25 percent — beginning July 1.

The increase, which would bring time share TAT in line with hotel room TAT, was opposed by several Republicans and some Democrats, including several from neighbor islands that rely on the time share business such as Kauai.

The increase would expire in 2015.

3:37 p.m. House Approves IRV, Online Voting Registration

The House gave its nod to bills allowing for online registration with the Office of Elections and to require instant runoff voting on all elections in which no primary election is held, meaning there would be no separate runoff election if no candidate received a majority of votes. 

The House also approved of placing unused public school properties into a land trust that could use the lands to raise revenues, establish the regulatory structure for the PUC to certify the development of an inter-island high-voltage electric transmission cable and levying the GET on Internet business transactions performed in Hawaii.

And, the House voted as well to restrict renewable energy tax credits, to eliminate Medicare Part B reinbursements for new hires only (if vested when they retire) and to revise the state laws on mortgage foreclosures to help borrowers work out payment arrangements with their borrowers.     

2:19 p.m. Hanabusa Goes To Gitmo

A press release from Colleen Hanabusa‘s congressional office today:

On the same day President Obama ordered to resume military trials for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa toured the naval base with a bipartisan delegation from the House Armed Services Committee.

The group was briefed by Rear Admiral Jeff Harbeson then toured two detention facilities and the detainee hospital.

“I’m grateful I had the opportunity to see firsthand the structure of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and how it operates. The challenge we currently face is defining a balanced process in detaining, trying, convicting and incarcerating enemy combatants and terrorists who threaten or harm the United States and our citizens. I am hopeful that we can work with the President to create a solution that strengthens our safety and reflects America’s values.”

The congresswoman also had the opportunity to meet with soldiers, sailors and Marines stationed at the base. She had lunch with three troops from Hawaii.

1:51 p.m. House Argues Over Ignition Locks

House members are over halfway through their agenda, and it seems likely they’ll finish before nightfall (maybe). But it’s still slow going, compared with the Senate, which managed to finish business in record time today.

Yes, the House has twice the number of members. But it also has a sizable GOP minority. When sensitive bills come up for a vote — like a measure designed to modify state law on ignition locks for drunk drivers — lawmakers get emotional.

Democrat Joe Souki, for example, said the bill, House Bill 1435, sends a message about drinking and driving, while Republican Kymberly Pine teared up when talking about the loss of friends to drunk driving accidents.

The bill passed, but not until many minutes ticked by. At one point the House had to call a brief recess to regroup after the level of discussion got out of control.

Other bills moving in the House are ones creating a state ferry system and taking money from the Hurricane Relief Fund.

One other item: Angus McKelvey asked if there was a conflict of interest on him voting on a bill related to mortgage foreclosures because he is currently facing such a non-judicial foreclosure. He was told he did not have one because many people are facing such a dilemma and the legislation in question would not directly benefit McKelvey.

Read Civil Beat’s story on McKelvey and foreclosures here.

12:01 p.m. Gifts Bill Amended Once More; Vote Due Thursday

Clayton Hee introduced an amendment, quickly adopted by the Senate, to Senate Bill 671, the controversial bill concerning gifts to lawmakers.

As Civil Beat reported yesterday, SB 671, which began as a reform bill, was later gutted to favor lobbyists and interest groups and then amended again to permit lawmakers and state employees to accept free tickets for charitable events from a “charitable entity.”

Problem was, what the Senate defined as a charity was a wide range of groups such as unions and chambers of commerce.

Hee’s amendment, an SD 2, which was not posted on the Capitol’s website as of this writing, would “narrow the scope” of charities to 501(c)3 organizations. Hee said he believed the change follows the advice of attorneys and the State Ethics Commission.

Because of the amendment, SB 671 will be voted on Thursday.

11:45 a.m. House Moving Slowly

Compared with their Senate counterparts, the state House is having a sluggish morning when it comes to passing bills.

Only a handful of measures have been approved, in part because of suggestions by House Republicans to amend bills. There are eight GOP members and 33 Democrats, so that can make for a lot of discussion.

In the Senate, however, business is being dealt with expeditiously.

Bills that have passed in the past hour included limited state recognition of Native Hawaiians, applying a surcharge to solid waste disposal, transferring control of medical pot into the Health Department, repealing the use of ethanol in gasoline, applying the TAT to furnished accommodations and requiring hospitals to provided emergency contraception info.

10:53 a.m. Senate Passes Elected AG Bill, Plastic Bag Charge

The Senate approved a measure asking voters to amend the Constitution and have residents vote on an attorney general rather than having the governor select the AG. But nine senators voted no, suggesting unease with the measure.

The Senate also approved measures levying a fee on the use of plastic bags in stores, taking money from a number of special funds as well as the Hurricane Relief Fund and placing the money into the general fund, punishing cyberbullies, cracking down on nepotism among state hires and restricting the use of leaf blowers (the last measure also had some senators expressing reservations about the idea).

The Senate has also approved some measures raising motor vehicle fees, as has the state House this morning.

10:12 a.m. Sen. Slom Plays Dr. No

He’s the only Republican in the Senate, and thus far he has voted “no” on nearly every measure that has come before the state Senate.

The bills Slom opposes include measures calling for the establishment of a museum of Hawaiian music and dance (use existing museum space, he says), salary increases for public employees (it’s not fair, given cuts the private sector has endured), making pseudoephedrine a Schedule V drug (an overreaction to its use with other drugs) and forfeiture of vehicle in excessive speeding offenses (too extreme a punishment).

Slom occasionally has been joined by majority Democrats in voting “no,” but thus far, an hour into its floor session, the Senate has moved dozens of bills along.

One big exception: Slom voted ‘yes’ on moving Hawaii’s primary election from September to August to comply with federal law to allow military personnel serving overseas to have time to send in absentee ballots.

Governor Abercrombie and Mayor Wright

Neil Abercrombie will visit and speak with Mayor Wright Housing residents today about their lack of hot water.

The governor is scheduled to be at the state-run public-housing facility in Kalihi between 11:30 a.m and 1 p.m.

The lack of hot water has been an embarrassment for the state. The service is expected to be restored to all apartments by July 5 at a cost of nearly $800,000.

Preparing for Crossover

The state House and Senate will vote today on hundreds of bills to meet Thursday’s deadline to have bills “cross over” from one chamber to the other.

That means it’s nearly the halfway point of the session, where the fate of most legislation (for now, anyway) will be made clear.

In past sessions, the 25-member Senate has generally wrapped up business by late afternoon while the 51-member House often goes into the early — and sometimes late — evening. Some legislation could also receive floor amendments and spill over into Thursday for “third-reading” consideration.

Good Day, Sunshine

Clayton Hee‘s Senate Judiciary and Labor has scheduled a confirmation hearing for Sunshine Topping, the governor’s nominee to lead Human Resources Development.

The hearing is set for 10 a.m. in Conference Room 016.

Gay Legislators Leading the Way

The Silicon Valley Mercury News reports that gay legislators have played central roles when it comes to marriage and civil union legislation — including Hawaii’s Blake Oshiro:

Oshiro stood up in the closing minutes of the 2010 session to force a House vote on the measure, which was approved but vetoed in July by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle. In September, Oshiro won a primary election over a former Honolulu councilman who strongly opposed civil unions, then beat a Republican in November—ensuring the bill would re-emerge this year with a supportive Democrat, Neil Abercrombie, taking over as governor.

For Oshiro, the key moment was deciding to make a personal plea to members of his Democratic caucus to overcome their doubts and agree to a vote on civil unions in April 2010.

“I was thinking I wouldn’t be able to really look in the mirror, knowing I had just let it fade,” he said. “Ultimately, the caucus supported bringing it to the floor, even if some of them didn’t support the bill.

“That was my one ‘ask,'” he said. “The governor vetoed it, but it really set the stage for this year.”

The Mercury News reports that, of the nation’s 7,382 state legislators, only 85 are openly gay or lesbian.


Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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