Welcome to Capitol Watch. We’re past the halfway point at the Hawaii Legislature and hundreds of bills are still moving. Meanwhile the state’s budget shortfall is getting worse. Civil Beat is reporting on all of it.

4 p.m. State Senate Honors Ronald Reagan

The Senate has approved a resolution that declares Feb. 6, 2011, as Ronald Reagan Day.

That day last month marked the centennial of the late president’s birth.

The resolution, which now heads to the House, was introduced by Republican Sam Slom and seven Senate Democrats.

Among other things, the “reso” credits Reagan with ending the Cold War and “commitment to an active social policy agenda for the nation’s children helped lower neighborhood crime and drug use.”

2:05 p.m. Big Isle Tsunami Damage at $14 M

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports that damage from the Japan tsunami now totals $14.2 million, most of it hotels and resorts on on the Kona side. The paper says:

“The numbers are basically structural and utility damage only, so they don’t reflect loss of inventory, contents of buildings, that sort of thing,” county Civil Defense Administrator Quince Mento said Tuesday afternoon.

Damages to commercial properties totaled a little more than $11.1 million, while residential properties sustained more than $2.5 million in damage. Damage to county properties was $562,500, Mento said.

1:55 p.m. UPDATE: Poker and HTA

New developments on items reported earlier:

The Hawaii Tourism Authority has approved spending $3 million to advertise in North America, increase flights to Hawaii from South Korea, seek charter flights from China and increase airlift from Australia and New Zealand. HTA will also send a delegation to Japan to re-stimulate travel “at the appropriate time,” according to a press release.

The online poker bill passed a state House committee.

Lastly, Inside Honolulu has several items on the rail press conference today.

HTA to Address Japan Crisis

The agenda of the Hawaii Tourism Authority this morning includes discussion and possible action regarding the disasters in Japan.

The Japanese market, Hawaii’s third largest, could suffer considerably and the state’s economy along with it. The HTA is considering shifting marketing resources accordingly.

The public meeting (except when the HTA decides to go into executive session) is set for 9:30 a.m. at the Hawaii Convention Center.

Abercrombie, LaHood on Rail Transit

The governor will participate in a press conference on the Honolulu Rapid Transit Project from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Honolulu Hale along with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

At 11 a.m., the governor will tour Honolulu Harbor with LaHood — like Neil Abercrombie, a former congressman (albeit a Republican).

Bills: Poker, Banks, Mortgages

Two House committees are scheduled to hear a proposed amendment to a bill allowing for “peer-to-peer” poker tournaments — i.e., gambling. Expect the usual supporters and opponents of gaming to show up to testify.

Two Senate committees are scheduled to hear a bill establishing a task force to study the feasibility and cost of establishing a Bank of the State of Hawaii.

Some lawmakers think a state bank would help Hawaii not be reliant on private financial institutions, especially in tough economic times. But the state DCCA and the Hawaii Bankers Association don’t like the idea.

Two House committees are scheduled to hear several bills on helping owners with mortgage foreclosures — a big topic at the Legislature this session, given the shocking rise in foreclosures and aggressive tactics on the part of lenders to obtain payments.

DCCA and the Hawaii Bankers Association like one of these bills but split on the other.

Two Senate committees, meanwhile, are scheduled to hear several House bills on mortgage foreclosures.

Bills: Taxes and Credits

Senate Economic Development and Technology is scheduled to hear several measures that either raise revenue or give it away via tax credits.

One bill would extend income tax credits for “qualified research activities” for five years and places an annual aggregate cap on the tax credit.

Another bill would suspend GET exemptions for some individuals, namely contractors, and businesses and require them to pay a tax. Dozens of businesses and unions oppose this bill.

And another bill would apply the GET to out-of-state businesses doing business in Hawaii, namely via the Internet. The national trade group Direct Marketing Association opposes the bill.

Lastly, a fourth bill, which is scheduled to be heard by the EDT committee and another Senate committee, would exempt the GET on fuel sold from a foreign-trade zone to airlines operating interisland. Hawaiian Airlines likes the bill.

One other note: Senate Judiciary is scheduled to hear House Bill 1092, the measure that taxes pensions income for upper-income earners. It’s the governor’s bill, but House lawmakers rewrote it to spare those who make less.

Bill: Homeless Safe Havens

Two House committees are scheduled to hear an amendment to a bill that would spend $250,000 to designate existing parks or open or vacant space as a “safe haven” for persons who are homeless.

The two committees — Housing, and Human Services — have led House efforts to alleviate homelessness. Housing Chairwoman Rida Cabanilla recently wrote an essay where she argues the state needs to support programs that help the homeless, not just call for more task force studies on the crisis.

Resolution: Eliminating NIMBY

Speaking of homelessness, safe zones and Rida Cabanilla, a resolution co-authored by her and other reps urges all local TV, radio and print outlets to address the “not in my back yard” attitude in Hawaii.

The concern is that because of NIMBY attitudes, attempts to develop safe zones, shelters and affordable-housing projects can’t get off the ground here. Cabanilla and Co. want the media to run anti-NIMBY PSAs

Curiously, the reso omits mention of any online news services, like Civil Beat.

Legislature Report Card

The Value of Hawaii hui presents a second installment of its Hawaii State Legislature Report Card, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the 
King Kamehameha V Judiciary History Center at Aliiolani Hale (417 S. King Street(.

Featuring speakers include Steven H. Levinson, Beth-Ann Kozlovich, Jon Osorio and Patricia Tummons.

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

Catch up on previous coverage:

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