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

4:11 p.m. Gov’s Office: Tsunami Damage ‘Tens of Millions,’ Not $300 M

The governor’s office has issued a revised press release that corrects the current estimate of tsunami damage to the islands: It is in the “tens of millions,” not $300 million, as previously reported on this blog.

The press release adds, “State agencies are still assessing damages and more information will be provided as they are available.”

3:27 p.m. DOH: No Japan Radiation In Islands

The Department of Health says it has not detected any elevated radiation readings in Hawaii due to damage to two Japanese nuclear reactors as a result of the recent earthquake and tsunami.

But what the release does not say is that there hasn’t yet been catastrophic failure at the reactors — which is what people are most concerned about, both here and in Japan.

But DOH says it is working closely with federal agencies to monitor the situation. The department is also “making preparations by coordinating with national and statewide partners and ensuring medical stockpiles are readily available.”

For more information go to the DOH website, the federal CDC or the EPA.

2:05 p.m. Abercrombie To Inspect Tsunami Damage

The governor plans tomorrow to visit areas damaged by last week’s tsunami.

The visit comes as the state has revised upward — way upward — the financial cost of the disaster. The new figure is tens of millions of dollars 1 and rising and includes private property and businesses in addition to government facilities.

1 p.m. Senate Confirms 3 More Gov Picks

The state Senate voted today to confirm Pat McManaman to lead Human Services, Mina Morita to lead the Public Utilities Commission and Gary Hooser to run the Office of Environmental Quality Control.

The votes were unanimous, with the exception of Sam Slom voting “no” on Morita’s nomination.

Updates on Big Isle Wave Damage

The Big Island’s daily newspapers (both owned by Stephens Media) had these updates yesterday on the aftermath of the tsunami, which damaged the Big Isle more than the other Hawaiian Islands:

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald says county officials were “upbeat” after an initial assessment of damage, especially because there was no loss of life. Still, an article reports that two homes were destroyed by tidal surge, 11 others severely damaged and 51 business were damaged, including hotels and apartments.

West Hawaii Today reports that it was the western side of the island that suffered the most damage, while Puna, Hilo, Hamakua and North Kohala “seemed to have escaped” any problems. Kona Village Resort will be closed for a “few days,” while the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai sustained “major damage”; in Kailua-Kona, the biggest concern remains damage to Kailua Pier.

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald says Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann wants more tsunami sirens for the county, believing some coastal residents remain vulnerable. The paper reports that in 2007 the Big Island had 68 Civil Defense sirens and needed 52 more. The count is now up to 71 sirens but none are in key residential and tourist areas, while five sirens in Pahala, Ocean View, Milolii and Hilo’s Carvalho Park did not sound during the recent emergency.

NOTE: Late yesterday, Neil Abercrombie issued a supplementary disaster proclamation “which expands and extends the previous State of Disaster Proclamtion the Governor signed on Friday following the tsunami that swept through the islands,” according to a statement. “Like the initial proclamtion, the Supplementary Proclamation will facilitate relief efforts.”

Appointed BOE to Become Law

Neil Abercrombie will sign Senate Bill 8 today, the measure that allows governors to select Board of Education members rather than have them elected.

A bill-signing ceremony is set for 2:15 p.m. at historic Washington Place.

The governor has until April 1 to submit his nominees for boards and commissions to the state Senate for confirmation this session, so, if you are interested in serving on the BOE, you best click here ASAP.

(The governor has said that one of the nine appointees will be banker Don Horner.)

Speaking of education, this is the Legislature’s 8th Annual Education Week, which means the state House and Senate will be presenting honors to distinguished educators and sponsoring events. Today, from 10 a.m. to noon, that means an open house with UH culinary, agriculture and sustainability programs in Conference Rooms 225 and 225.

Hawaiian Caucus Day

The state Senate will celebrate Hawaiian Caucus Day for the fifth consecutive year, a day-long event meant to honor, preserve and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture through activities under the slogan of “Holomua Me Ka Lōkahi” (moving forward in unity).

The Capitol’s second and third floors will feature informational and educational exhibits, presentations by practitioners, nonprofits and community groups; and displays of artwork and musical performances. A little poi pounding will take place in the Rotunda around 11 a.m.

The highlight is the presentation of certificates of recognition to Native Hawaiian leaders during floor session beginning at 11:30 a.m. Those to be honored include Abigail K.K. Kawananakoa, Emmett Aluli, Kahai Topolinski and Aunty Aggie Cope.

Bills: PUC, Cable TV

House Consumer Protection and Commerce is scheduled to hear bills including one on the composition of the Public Utilities Commission and another that would allow the DCCA director to “designate an access organization to oversee public, educational, and governmental channels on cable television.”

In the matter of the former bill, PUC-chair designate Mina Morita, who sits on the House committee, will no doubt recuse herself from voting; concerning the latter bill, it’s worth noting that DCCA head Kelii Lopez formerly ran Olelo Community Media.

Bills: Collective Bargaining

Senate Ways and Means is scheduled to hear a measure making emergency appropriations for employer contributions to Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund health benefit premiums.

Bills: The HTA and Hawaiian Culture

House Tourism is scheduled to hear a bill authorizing the Hawaii Tourism Authority to support traditional Hawaiian arts and cultural activities.

Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

  1. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the damage estimate from the tsunami exceeded $300 million. The error was made by the governor’s office and later corrected.

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