Welcome to Capitol Watch. It’s the halfway point at the Hawaii Legislature and hundreds of bills are still moving. Meanwhile the state’s budget takes center stage. Civil Beat is reporting on all of it.

4:48 p.m. Gov Comments On Reduced Revenue Forecast

Neil Abercrombie‘s office released a statement today in response to the Council on Revenues lowering its projections for fiscal year 2011 by 2.5 percent:

“I have presented proposals to make structural financial changes to face the ongoing economic challenges. Today’s Council on Revenues confirms my Administration’s concern that we address our fiscal crisis in a comprehensive manner. Everyone must do their share.

“We have to come to grips with how we’re going to deal with this growing deficit. It will take all of us to share in the sacrifices and make the tough decisions to get Hawaii back on the right course.”

2:28 p.m. Abercrombie On Radio, and In Moiliili

The governor will be a guest on Hawaii Public Radio’s “Town Square” from 5 to 6 p.m. on KIPO 89.3 FM with host Beth-Ann Kozlovich. The call-in number is 941-3689.

The governor will then meet with constituents at the Willows Restaurant in Moiliili in Oahu from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. The event is hosted by Moiliili Matters, a community-based online social network. 

2 p.m. Hawaii Not Ready for ‘Aging Tsunami’

A group of health and insurance executives, government officials and community leaders are worried that state government and most Hawaii residents are “ill-prepared to meet the elder-care needs of the state’s rapidly aging population,” according to a press release from AARP Hawaii. They call the problem an “aging tsunami.”

The Long-Term Care Commission has made its assessment in an interim report to the Legislature, which will be the focus of a hearing from 3 to 5 p.m. today at the Capitol Auditorium.

For more information about the Long-Term Care Commission and to read its report, click here.

1:42 p.m. Inouye Calls For ‘Order’ On Budget Impasse

In the wake of the U.S. Senate’s rejection yesterday of both the House “continuing resolution” on the federal budget and the counter proposal Senate Democrats, Dan Inouye released a statement today that reads in part:

Today, with Fiscal Year 2011 nearly halfway over, as a result of the Congress’ inability to finish its work, the federal government is still operating on stopgap funding designed to avert a government shutdown. This is no way to govern. Continuing Resolutions make it difficult for federal agencies to perform their duties. …

Moreover, Continuing Resolutions make a mockery of our Constitutional responsibility to allocate taxpayer funding wisely. Putting the country on budgetary autopilot is simply unacceptable.  It is well past the time to cast aside the blistering campaign rhetoric of the fall and find the means to compromise. … I would suggest that returning to regular order in our budget process is a necessary component to achieve this goal. 

Mr. President, the House and the Senate need to find a way to work together to pass our bills under regular order, and send them to the President. This is the only way we can restore discipline to the budget process.  It is the only way we can maintain our constitutional responsibility to determine how taxpayer dollars are spent. And, it is truly the only way we can avoid repeating the catch-all spending bills that none of us want.

12:11 p.m. Unanimous Senate Passes Gifts Bill

The state Senate has approved by 21-0 vote an amended version of Senate Bill 671, a measure to allow lawmakers to accept free tickets to charitable events.  

The measure was drastically altered from its original intent.

“This bill has had a very long and traveled pass,” said Republican Sam Slom, who, along with Democrat Les Ihara, introduced the first version of the measure.

“When the bill was introduced, it was a strong statement about legislators not receiving gifts and about lobbyists and special interests having more reporting responsibilities,” Slom said. “The draft that followed should have been an embarrassment to all legislators.”

Brickwood Galuteria gutted the Slom-Ihara version of the bill and drafted his own amendment. His version would have actually lifted restrictions on lawmakers accepting gifts.

Galuteria defended his version, saying in an op-ed published in the Star-Advertiser, that the amendment was “a starting point for discussion.”

The bill was amended again, however, and the final version allows lawmakers to accept free tickets to charitable events from charitable entities as defined by section 501(c)3 in the IRS code.

Three senators voted for the bill, but with reservations: Slom, Ihara and Mike Gabbard.

Robert Brown

11:06 a.m. Relief Coming for Human Services

An infusion of cash may soon be on its way to the Department of Human Services to help cover increased costs for Medicaid and welfare assistance.

The department’s two emergency requests totaling about $116 million have been passed out of the state House and sent over to the Senate this week:

  • House Bill 1066: $58.5 million for welfare benefits under the department’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. According to the legislation, the department says without the funding it could lose federal matching funds and it “will not be able to provide cash assistance to approximately 9,849 families with children.”

  • House Bill 1065: $57.5 million “to address a funding shortfall in the Medicaid program.” It would, according to the measure, “ensure continued timely payments to contracted health plans and ensure that there will be no disruption in the provision of medically necessary services to program recipients.”

At an informational briefing Thursday morning, chairs of the House and Senate Human Services committees, John Mizuno and Suzanne Chun Oakland, assured the department they would push the measures forward.

The Human Services Department has made a $2.3 billion budget request for the 2012 fiscal year that begins July 1.

Nanea Kalani

10:03 a.m. DCCA Holds Consumer Protection Fair

Did you know that this week is National Consumer Protection Week? Me neither.

But the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs does, and from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. it’s holding a Consumer Education Fair in the courtyard of the King Kalakaua Building at 335 Merchant Street downtown.

“The purpose of NCPW is to promote consumer education by providing consumers free information that will help protect their privacy, manage their money and debt, and avoid identity theft, frauds and scams,” DCCA Director Kealii Lopez said in a press release. “We encourage residents to attend the fair for free consumer tips and resources.  We will have representatives from over two dozen government and non-profit agencies available to answer questions.”

Among the top areas of interest, says DCCA: mortgage foreclosure fraud. Go to this DCCA website for useful tips. to spot fraud and deal with it.

9 a.m. Senate Likely to Pass Gifts Bill

It appears that Senate Bill 671, the drastically rewritten bill addressing gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers — namely, tickets to charitable events — has the votes to pass.

An amendement to the bill would limit the gift-giving to 501(c)3 non-profits.

But Sen. Sam Slom, one of the bill’s original sponsors — when SB 671 was actually an ethics reform bill — says the bill still stinks.

“The whole idea was to clamp down on extra and abundant gifts from lobbyists,” Slom said Wednesday. “The bill that Les Ihara and I introduced would tighten up the law, make it more stringent, have disclosure. But they took that all out.”

Slom said the bill has support because it would benefit groups like the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs, whose president and CEO, Bill Kaneko, managed Neil Abercrombie‘s race for governor and his transition team.

“It’s a touchy subject here, especially when you are getting gifts,” said Slom.

APEC Update

Two House committees have scheduled an informational briefing to learn from the APEC Hawaii 2011 Host Committee on preparations for the Nov. 8-13 event.

APEC — Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation — represents 21 member economies from around the Pacific Rim.

This year, it’s America’s turn to host, and Barack Obama chose Hawaii nei.

The briefing is at 2 p.m. in Conference Room 329.

The Cost of Human Services

At 9 a.m. in Conference Room 329, a joint House and Senate Human Services hearing will hear from the Department of Human Services on its budget, bills relating to DHS and the impact of a reduction in services at DHS and nonprofit organizations.

At 10:45 a.m. in the same room, House Human Services will consider a handful of resolutions including ones urging the U.S. government to help Hawaii help Micronesians, and to ask the Attorney General’s Office to study whether Hawaii’s sex offender laws are working.

Prison Reform on PBS

At 7 p.m. on PBS Hawaii, Dan Boylan and “Island Insights” are scheduled to discuss efforts to reform Hawaii’s penal system:

What are the conditions of our prisons and are there alternatives to incarceration? What efforts are in place to promote more cost-effective methods of addressing crime to reduce the reliance on incarceration? Does politics rather than crime-control govern our prison system?

Scheduled to appear are Jodie Maesaka-Hirata, Will Espero and Daniel Gluck.

What Did You Say?

At 1:45 p.m. in Conference Room 016, two Senate committees are scheduled to consider a resolution that asks the state auditor to assess “the social and financial impacts” of requiring health insurers to offer coverage for hearing aids.

Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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