Welcome to Capitol Watch. There’s a month to go at the Hawaii Legislature and the budget crunch is taking center stage. Civil Beat is all over the story.

4:48 p.m. HGEA Settles With State, Counties

The state’s largest and most powerful public sector union — the Hawaii Government Employees Association — has agreed to a two-year contract that calls for a 5 percent cut in salaries and a 50-50 split in health benefits between public employees and state and county governments.

Read all about it here.

4:39 p.m. Senate Education Approves Five BOE Picks

Jill Tokuda‘s Senate Committee on Education unanimously recommended that the full Senate confirm Don Horner, Brian De Lima, Wesley Lo, Kim Gennaula and Jim Williams to serve on the Board of Education.

(Celebrity sighting: Gennaula’s hubby, Guy Hagi, was in attendance for part of the hearing. The he left to check on the weather.)

A floor vote is expected within a few days.

A confirmation hearing on the governors other four appointments — Nancy Budd, Charlene Cuaresma, Cheryl Kauhane Lupenui and Keith Amemiya — is set for Friday afternoon.

3:44 p.m. CJ Names Four More Judges

Mark Recktenwald has appointed Lanson K. Kupau, Melanie Mito May and Dean E. Ochiai to the District Court and Catherine H. Remigio to the District Family Court of the First Circuit on Oahu.

According to a press release, Kupau is currently a per diem District Family Court judge on Oahu, and an attorney with the law firm of Bronster Hoshibata, while Mito May has been in private practice, specializing in the area of employment law, since 1997.

Ochiai has been the Vice President and Managing Attorney of First Insurance Company of Hawaii, Ltd. since 1991, while Remigio is a partner of the law firm Bryant & Remigio, LLLC, where she practices in the area of family law. She has been a per diem District Court judge on Oahu since 2007.

If confirmed by the state Senate, the judges will serve for six years.

3:04 p.m. Kauai to Broadcast Budget Hearings

Good news for open-government advocates, according to an article in The Garden Isle:

Transparency may become the motto of this year’s Kauai County Council budget review sessions, with the majority, if not all, of the meetings being broadcast live for the first time in at least recent history.

J Robertson, managing director of Hoike, said Kauai’s community television station plans to start broadcasting the meetings online via the county’s website on Friday, beginning with the mayor’s presentation of his administration’s proposed $164.98 million operating budget.

2:45 p.m. Decision Making on GET Hike Tomorrow

Senate Ways and Means is scheduled tomorrow morning to decide whether to raise the general excise tax by 1 percent for the next two years.

The bill also calls for the temporary suspension of some GET exemptions.

1:26 p.m. On the Phone with Neil, Ray and Barry

Ray LaHood and Neil Abercrombie will hold a conference call tomorrow morning with Barack Obama “to discuss energy security and the president’s call to reduce imports of foreign oil,” according to White House press release.

The media is allowed to dial in. Civil Beat will do so.

12:01 p.m. Coffman To Lead House Energy, Environmental Protection

Denny Coffmann has been selected by House leadership to chair House Energy and Environmental Protection, where Coffman has serves as vice chair.

Like Mina Morita, who Coffman replaces as chair, Coffman is a House dissident who opposed Calvin Say‘s re-election as speaker.

The new vice chair is newly sworn in Derek Kawakami, who was appointed by the governor to fill Morita’s vacated Kauai seat.

11:22 a.m. GET Hike Proposal Packs Capitol Auditorium

Senate Ways and Means wisely moved its hearing today on the GET increase from a second floor conference room to the more spacious (but chilly) Auditorium in the Capitol’s chamber level.

The fate of HB 793 has filled the room.

Written testimony is similarly crowded: 258 submissions in opposition, 184 in support and three with comments.

Nanea Kalani

10:49 a.m. Akaka Reintroduces Whistleblower Act

A bipartisan group of senators led by Dan Akaka and Susan Collins have reintroduced the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011.

“Whistleblowers protect the American people by disclosing waste, fraud, abuse, and illegal activity,” Akaka said in a statement. “This bill strengthens the Whistleblower Protection Act and restores congressional intent that whistleblowers be protected from retaliation.” 

In late 2010, a nearly identical version of the bill passed the Senate and a modified version passed the House, but Congress adjourned before the two versions could be reconciled.

10:30 a.m. Inouye Optimistic About Budget

Dan Inouye today expressed optimism that a deal could come soon on federal spending this year in order to avoid a partial government shutdown starting Friday night.

Rueters reports Inouye saying “we’re moving” forward in negotiations between Democrats and Republicans.

The report added:

Asked if a deal could be sealed on Wednesday, Inouye responded, “No,” but added, “maybe” on Thursday.

9:10 a.m. Hanabusa, Hirono Diss GOP Budget

Hawaii’s U.S. representatives don’t care much for Paul Ryan’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2012 — the one that would significantly alter the financing of Medicaid and Medicare.

Colleen Hanabusa said in part:

The Republicans’ slash-and-burn strategy is neither smart nor responsible. They are looking at cuts as simply dollars and cents, rather than real people and critical programs many rely on. You can’t continue tax breaks to oil companies that are turning record profits while placing the budget burden on seniors, students and working families.

Mazie Hirono said in part:

It is clear whose side Chairman Ryan and Majority Leader Cantor are on. I stand with our nation’s seniors and the working people who are counting on having Medicare and Social Security when they retire. I am tired of these heartless attacks on the most vulnerable members of our communities. How about a little aloha?

8:42 a.m. U.S. Senate Passes Tsunami Resolution

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution last night introduced by Dan Akaka and Dan Inouye encouraging Americans to observe Tsunami Awareness Month this month and to be prepared by identifying evacuation routes.

“National Weather Service tsunami programs support warning, mitigation, and research activities that are critical to our nation’s safety and security,” Akaka said in a statement. “The House-passed continuing resolution would decrease millions of dollars of funding for NOAA. Making drastic cuts to NOAA’s budget would severely impair our nation’s ability to warn citizens of potential disasters.”

(Colleen Hanabusa and Maxie Hirono strongly opposed the House cuts to NOAA.)

“The recent tragedy in Japan illustrates the need for all coastal communities to remain vigilant to the threats posed by the sea,” said Inouye in the same statement. “It is an essential function of government to protect our communities as best we can.”

Information about tsunami preparedness is available here.

Hearing: BOE Picks

Five of Neil Abercrombie‘s choices for Board of Education members have their confirmation hearing scheduled in Senate Education.

They are Brian De Lima, Wesley Lo, Kim Gennaula Hagi, James Williams and Don Horner.

Bill: Raising the GET

Senate Ways and Means is scheduled to consider an amendment to a bill that would raise the general excise tax by 1 percent for two years.

Not all senators are crazy about the idea, many House members are opposed and the governor seems to change his position by the week.

The proposed amendment also suspends various GET exemptions.

Bills: Tobacco, Tasers, Plastic Bags

Three Senate committees are scheduled to hear a bill setting up a hospital-based screening and assessment and intensive home visitation program within the Department of Health and taking money from the Hawaii Tobacco Settlement Special Fund to pay for it.

Senate Judiciary and Labor is scheduled to hear a bill allowing Army and Air National Guard to use electric guns in disaster relief, civil defense, or law enforcement situations — in the last case, including the APEC meeting set for Honolulu this November.

The Hawaii Department of Defense likes the bill, the ACLU of Hawaii does not.

And, House Finance is scheduled to hear a bill that requires businesses to collect a 5-cent fee for each single-use checkout bag provided to a customer.

The American Chemistry Council doesn’t like the bill — think plastic bags — but environmental groups and grocers and merchants are united on the idea.

Bills: EUTF and Collective Bargaining

House Finance is scheduled to hear proposed amendments on measures that appropriate funds for Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund costs and salary increases for bargaining units.

Marcus Oshiro has once again scheduled an evening hearing (6 p.m.), a practice not common among most committee chairs.

House spokeswoman Georgette Deemer — @georgettedeemer — tweeted out the Monday that FIN finished a hearing around 12:30 a.m.

Where’s Neil?

Here’s Neil:

Gov. Abercrombie will attend the Hawaii Chinese Qing Ming Celebration at Manoa Chinese Cemetery between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Qing ming is a traditional festival for honoring ancestors.

Catch up on previous coverage:

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