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.

4:17 p.m. Akaka, Inouye Support Repeal of ‘Defense of Marriage Act’

Dan Inouye and Dan Akaka have signed onto legislation that would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, aka DOMA.

Called the Respect for Marriage Act, and introduced this week by Diane Feinstein of California, the measure would also restore the rights of all lawfully married couples — including same-sex couples — to receive the benefits of marriage under federal law.

According to a press release from Feinstein’s office, “Under current law, legally married, same-sex couples cannot take advantage of federal protections available to every other married couple in this country.

These couples cannot:

  • File joint federal income taxes and claim certain deductions;

  • Receive spousal benefits under Social Security;

  • Take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act when a loved one falls seriously ill;

  • Obtain the protections of the estate tax when one spouse passes and wants to leave his or her possessions to another.

The bill to repeal DOMA has the support of 16 other Democrats besides Feinstein and Hawaii’s senators.

2:31 p.m. Gov: Hawaii ‘Open for Business’

Echoing remarks made by President Obama earlier today — that harmful levels of radiation from Japan won’t reach Hawaii and West Coast shores — Neil Abercrombie issued the following statement:

“I want to reassure residents and visitors that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the highest authority on radiation in the nation, has indicated Japan’s nuclear emergency presents no danger to Hawai’i. Our state and county monitoring systems have not detected any increase in radiation levels, and based on all available information, state and federal experts do not anticipate any risk of harmful radiation exposure to our islands. We are open for business. Hawai’i continues to be the world’s paradise.

“Residents do not need to take protective measures at this time. Our state Department of Health is working closely with state, county and federal agencies to monitor the situation on a minute-to-minute basis. Ongoing updates and informational sessions are taking place with federal authorities.

“In the meantime, we continue to send our aloha to the people of Japan. As one island people to another, we stand with them in solidarity and in sympathy for the challenges they are facing.”

For more information, the governor’s office advises calling 2-1-1 or visiting state DOH or the CDC.

12:17 p.m. Lim Confirmed as DBEDT Boss

Richard Lim has been unanimously confirmed by the state Senate to lead the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Speaking of business and the governor’s Cabinet, Neil Abercrombie will deliver remarks at the 6th Annual Hawaii Green Business Hotel Recognition Ceremony from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Capitol’s ceremonial room on the fifth floor.

10:19 a.m. Abercrombie Hires Senior Adviser

Lloyd Nekoba has worked closely with Neil Abercrombie for decades, especially during Abercrombie’s time in Washington. He was a key figure in the gubernatorial campaign and in helping with the transition into the governor’s office.

Now, Abercrombie has hired Nekoba, effective March 1, to be his senior adviser. Donalyn Dela Cruz tells Civil Beat the hire was made possible after the passage of emergency funding for the governor’s office, and that Nekoba will work “with staff across the state, lawmakers, community and labor leaders, the Cabinet, etc.”

Nekoba brings a seasoned perspective to the job, an insider who has seen it all and can provide frank counsel to the governor.

In related news, Neil Dietz, the governor’s chief labor negotiator, doesn’t officially start his job until March 24. But Dela Cruz says Dietz “has already been working on collective bargaining.” Labor union contracts expire June 30, and the issues of salary and benefits are directly tied to the state budget. The governor has said he wants a 5 percent cut, totaling $88 million for each of the next two years.

Dietz, who was appointed in early February, has been a longtime employee of the Seafarers International Union in Honolulu, and was an early supporter of Abercrombie’s campaign for governor. Dietz oversaw labor-management meetings between workers and NCL America management and served as vice-president of the Hawaii State AFL-CIO.

Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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