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.

2:45 p.m. Gov Adds Information Management Office

Neil Abercrombie announced the establishment of a new Office of Information Management and Technology, which will be led by a chief information officer.

The new office is intended to modernize the state’s technology system and make government more efficient and cost-effective.

“It will literally save millions (of dollars) for taxpayers,” the governor said.

A $3 million grant from the Hawaii Community Foundation will pay for the planning phase of the initiative, which will later be funded by state monies. Two bills are currently moving through the Legislature in that regard.

The foundation is using money donated by the Omidyar Ohana Fund, established through the support of Pierre and Pam Omidyar. Pierre Omidyar is the publisher of Civil Beat.

Kelvin Taketa said the foundation and the administration consulted with the State Ethics Commission to make sure there were no problems with a private entity donating money to government service.

“There is quite a bit of precedent for philanthropic support of government services,” said Taketa.

2:27 p.m. House Passes Budget to Senate

The state House passed the state’s budget bill, sending it over to Senate Ways and Means for what will almost certainly involve major tinkering, given the revised deficit numbers.

Before voting, several House reps engaged in a round of “reality checks” — their words — on what the budget does and does not do, and regarding the dire fiscal situation of the state.

Marcus Oshiro, who runs House Finance (its theme this year: “Thin it to win it.”), said the reality check is that the state is having to make severe budget cuts for the third year in a row: “Here we are again — déjà vu.”

Oshiro said the Legislature is faced with choices “no one wants to make” and costs “beyond our ability to pay. We all want a free lunch, but there is no free lunch.”

Still, Oshiro is proud of the budget he crafted, and he quoted the governor’s state-of-the-state address, the part about shared sacrifice and the necessity of dealing with the fiscal crisis now, not passing it along to future generations.

Gene Ward does not like the budget. His reality check — his words — is that, with what is going on globally from Japan to the Middle East, the budget shifts the financial burden to the private sector — this in a state with an already very high tax burden. He says he hears an increase in the GET is more and more likely.

Karl Rhoads then stood to announce that he had just looked up on the Internet the fact that Hawaii ranks only 22 in terms of tax burden nationally. And Angus McKelvey said Ward had it wrong, that lawmakers aren’t looking at raising the GET but rather ending exemptions to the GET.

Blake Oshiro said he would be happy to hear whatever budget suggestions Republicans have, but he strongly suggested that they would not add up to much, as Democrats have done all the could to scrape the general fund barrel.

Barbara Marumoto said pension taxes were “cruel,” but Marilyn Lee said the money has to come from somewhere, and besides, cutting funds for vulnerable populations is cruel too.

Ward checked his laptop, meanwhile, and replied that, yes, talk of a GET hike is spreading, and yes, in fact, Hawaii is ranked among the top states for tax burdens. Kym Pine said she agreed.

In the gallery were members of the governor’s Cabinet.

Now, the budget is in the Senate’s hands, where lawmakers are already in close talks with the administration on what to do about the growing deficit.

11:32 a.m. HSTA, UPW Collective Bargaining Bills Hit Glitch

Due to an administrative misunderstanding on the part of Senate Judiciary and Labor, collective bargaining bills for the Hawaii State Teachers Association and United Public Workers did not cross over from the Senate to the House last week.

Senate President Shan Tsutsui said the oversight was accidental and that the Senate is in discussions with the House to revive the measures by inserting the appropriate language from the union bills into other bills that did survive crossover.

“I got a call from HSTA asking, ‘Can we have a meeting with you?'” Tsutsui told Civil Beat.

Collective bargaining bills are a standard part of a governor’s legislative package, and the dozens of bills have companion bills that are heard in both chambers. Senate Judiciary and Labor was under the mistaken assumption that House Labor and Public Employment had passed its versions of the HSTA and UPW bills.

9:01 a.m. Senate Health Holds Briefing on Japan Radiation

Senate Health has scheduled an informational briefing at 4 p.m. on the recent arsenic spill on Kauai and the “potential environmental health hazards of the radiation impact on the catastrophe in Japan, according to the hearing agenda.

The Health Department and the Sierra Club will present information on safety and the environment for Hawaii residents.

Gifts Bill On State Ethics Agenda

The controversial gifts bill passed by the state Senate is on the agenda for the State Ethics Commission, set for 11 a.m. in American Savings Bank Tower (1001 Bishop Street) Suite 970.

The agenda advises that the Ethics Commission may go into executive session (i.e., behind closed doors) to talk about the bill, Senate Bill 671.

The commission is expected to discuss other ethics legislation moving through the 2011 Legislature.

Value of Hawaii: Ledge’s Midterm Report Card

A “legislative report card” forum from the Value of Hawaii project is set for 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the King Kamehameha V Judiciary History Center in Aliiolani Hale (417 S. King Street).

The “graders” are Kat Brady, Margery Bronster, Lowell Chun-Hoon and David Shapiro.

RSVP to 539-4999 or toni@jhchawaii.net. Sponsored by by the Hawaii Council for the Humanities, The Hawaii Independent and The Center for Biographical Research.

Gov Talks in Kalihi

Neil Abercrombie is the keynote speaker at the Kalihi Business Association Installation Dinner, to be held at Honolulu Country Club from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Ice Cream, Steel Guitar, Charter Schools

As part of Education Week* activities at the Capitol, charter schools** will pass out frozen yogurt with 31 different toppings, representing 31 Hawaii charter schools.

That’s from 9 a.m. to noon in Conference Room 224, where Cyril Pahinui and students from Connections, a Hilo public charter school, will be playing steel guitars they made under his instruction.

Bills: Native Hawaiians

Two House committees are scheduled to hear a half-dozen bills regarding Native Hawaiian issues, including Senate Bill 1520, which has come to be described as a state version of the federal Akaka bill. SB 1520 sets up a roll process for counting Hawaiians and establishing a nation.

In an unusual departure from practice, the hearing notice for the bills includes this statement at the top: “He lā hou, e ho‘oulu lāhui.” (A new day, building a nation.)

The same quotes is on another hearing notice, this one for two House committees hearing one bill on establishing a task force to find ways to help Hawaiians in the criminal justice system and another bill to allow nonviolent offenders to help restore historic sites.

Bills: Graffiti and Light Pollution

Senate Judiciary and Labor is scheduled a measure that would require a person convicted of criminal property damage by graffiti to remove the graffiti from property within 250 yards of the site of the offense.

And House Transportation is scheduled to hear a bill requiring every new and replacement outdoor light fixture to be “fully shielded” — meaning that the lights are installed in ways that will not cause “light pollution” that interferes with astronomy or endangers the health of humans and animals.

Bills: Helping the Homeless

Two House committees are scheduled to hear measures that set up an interagency council on homelessness, under the Department of Human Services.

And two House committees are scheduled to hear measures asking DHS to find “suitable properties” for a Housing First program and to fund housing placement programs.

Bills: Mortgage Foreclosures

Two House committees are scheduled to hear several bills intended to help homeowners facing mortgage foreclosures.

Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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