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.

2:53 p.m. About That Government Shutdown

Colleen Hanabusa had this to say on the possibility of a shutdown of the federal government tomorrow because Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on a budget:

“I will continue to work towards preventing a government shutdown, but in the event it does happen, I pledge to donate any pay I earn during that time to a local charity. I encourage all my colleagues to do the same.”

Jonah Kaauwai had this to say:

“Unfortunately, Congresswomen Hirono and Hanabusa continue to put partisan politics ahead of the people’s business. Their votes against the House continuing resolution which keeps the federal government operating and ensures federal employees will receive a paycheck, including those of our military men and woman serving in harm’s way is irresponsible.”

And the National Journal has this to say about Dan Inouye, one of the key players in budget negotiations:

He treats the anti-earmark, deficit-cutting enthusiasm of the current Congress like a passing fad. Inouye is willing to help Reid and President Obama, but is, according to several Democratic aides, uninterested in the kind of cutting that Democrats now see as necessary. Leadership staffers groused during the (Continuing Resolution) fight that Inouye’s reluctance to embrace real cuts limited Democratic efforts and limited the role the Appropriations Committee played in the process. Inouye may be a reluctant participant, but will not be a leader in the budget-cutting efforts.

1:40 p.m. UPDATE: Pension Tax, Medicare Part B

Senate Ways and Means advanced House Bill 1092, which would tax pension income.

The bill was amended today to include a $100,000 maximum threshold of pension income (not federal adjusted income like previous versions) that would be exempted from taxation. Any pension income higher than that, would be subject to tax.

WAM also advanced a bill that would end state-funded Medicare Part B reimbursements for new hires.

House Bill 1041 also would cap the reimbursement for current government retirees at the amount received by those in the lowest income level used for determining the refund size.

That amount is currently $96 a quarter, or $384 annually, for a single filer earning $85,000 or less, or joint filers making $170,000 or less. Under current law, higher income earners can get up to $354 a quarter in reimbursements.

Approximately 30,100 pensioners receive anywhere from $384 to $1,414 a year in refunds, depending on their income.

Nanea Kalani

11:26 a.m. UPDATE: Suspension of GET Exemptions Passes

A GET hike is dead, but Senate Ways and Means has voted 10-4 to temporarily suspend some GET exemptions.

The committee removed language that would have raised the general excise tax by 1 percent for the next two years.

Just in time for the vote, Shan Tsutsui along with Sens. Brickwood Galuteria and Les Ihara walked into the room.

Moments earlier, a motion to try to to push off voting to another day was quashed.

Nanea Kalani

10:15 a.m. Abercrombie, LaHood Talk Energy

Neil Abercrombie and Ray LaHood, old friends from Washington, D.C., addressed the media together on a White House conference call on energy issues this morning.

The backdrop for the call was Barack Obama‘s recently-unveiled energy plan. Abercrombie said he hopes Hawaii can serve as a “bright beacon” to the rest of the country on energy issues, and LaHood called the governor a “great partner to the administration.”

The governor focused his remarks and his answers to media questions on collaboration with the federal government. Conversations with the Pacific Command and the Pentagon could help stimulate efforts to produce Hawaii-grown biofuels, he said, and any intra-state ferry system would likely need buy-in from the military to move forward.

“We are completely victims of international, global pricing forces,” said Abercrombie. “It’s in our direct interest … to move toward renewable fuels.”

LaHood said federal money for rail — which he mistakenly referred to as “light rail” — could help take cars off the road and carbon dioxide out of the air.

The call ended with the governor curiously reading the text of a thank-you letter he received from LaHood after the secretary was Abercrombie’s first-ever Washington Place dinner guest in late March.

Michael Levine

10 a.m. UPDATE: WAM Extends Gov’t Pay Cuts

Senate Ways and Means has amended a bill — House Bill 575 — to freeze salaries for the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary branches covered by the Salary Commission at current levels until Dec. 31, 2013.

The bill sought to extend until June 30, 2013, a 5 percent pay cut that was made two years ago and was set to expire this June 30. In recognition of tight fiscal times, the amended version adds another six months.

The commission would convene before then and make recommendations for salaries that would go into effect Jan. 1, 2014.

Nanea Kalani

9:44 a.m. UPDATE: Hee Recommends Shield Law Extension

As is his habit, Clayton Hee told the audience before his Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee his recommendations on pending legislation.

Regarding the media Shield Law — House Bill 1376 — Hee wants a two-year extension for the law that is set to expire June 30.

Hee said he has been advised by the state’s Judiciary Branch that a report on the Shield Law that Judiciary will put together will be delivered in time for the 2012 legislative session.

First Amendment advocates like Jeff Portnoy and Stirling Morita were in attendance and told Civil Beat the two-year extension “was better than nothing,” though they would prefer the law be made permanent.

9:08 a.m. UPDATE: Akaka Bill Clears Committee

Senate Indian Affairs has passed the Akaka bill, which now will be placed on the Senate calendar for a possible floor vote.

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, as it is formally called, was approved by voice vote.

It is unclear when a floor vote might be held.

Akaka Bill in Akaka Committee

As promised, Dan Akaka‘s Indian Affairs Committee will hear the latest version of the Akaka bill this morning in Washington.

Read the bill here and read Civil Beat’s story about it here.

If it passes Indian Affairs, the Akaka bill will be added to the Senate Calendar for consideration by the full Senate. An identical version has also been introduced in the U.S. House.

Decision Making on GET Hike

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

The proposed amendment to the bill can be read here.

It also calls for the temporary suspension of some GET exemptions.

Lawmakers to Discuss Keehi Recovery

Neil Abercrombie will be on hand between 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. at a public meeting providing updates on the tsunami damage to Keehi Lagoon.

The meeting, at the Keehi Boat Club (4 Sand Island Access Road), is organized by area lawmakers Suzanne Chun Oakland and Joey Manahan.

Those in attendance will include Ed Teixeira and Ed Underwood, and possibly William Aila.

Email any questions in advance to manahan3@capitol.hawaii.gov or call 586-6547.

Rotunda Round-Up: Shield Law, Media Issues

Kanu Hawaii and Common Cause Hawaii continue with their Rotunda Round-Up series.

The topic at 5:30 p.m. in the Capitol Rotunda is “Shield Law and Media Issues.”

Guests include people from Civil Beat (i.e., me), and Media Council Hawaii.

That morning, Senate Judiciary and Labor is scheduled to hear a bill that would make permanent “the limited news media privilege against the compelled disclosure of sources and unpublished information.”

The Shield Law, as it is known, is set to expire June 30. ACLU Hawaii, the Society of Professional Journalists-Hawaii Chapter and the Big Island Press Club support the bill.

Clayton Hee told Civil Beat his committee is likely to extend the expiration date of the Shield Law.

Bill: Government Salary Cuts

It’s still alive!

House Bill 575, which would extend the 5 percent legislative salary decrease until June 2013 and apply it to legislators, executive and judicial branch positions, is scheduled to be heard by Senate Ways and Means.

Joe Souki was the only House member to vote against an earlier draft of the bill, while Faye Hanohano voted “aye” with reservations.

Bill: Sick Leave

It’s still alive!

Senate Judiciary and Labor is scheduled to hear a bill making it unlawful for an employer or a labor organization with 100 or more employees and a collective bargaining agreement “to bar or discharge from employment, withhold pay from, or demote an employee because the employee uses accrued and available sick leave.”

As we have reported, top unions like the HGEA support the bill, but top business like First Hawaiian Bank and HECO oppose it.

Bill: Kakaako Advisory Committee

Two Senate committees are scheduled for decision making on a bill repealing the requirement that the Hawaii Community Development Authority pay attention to a community planning advisory council.

As we have reported, Kobayashi Development Group likes the bill, OHA and environmental groups hate it.

Akaka, Inouye Oppose Same-Sex Couple Deportation

The gay friendly Metro Weekly is reporting that Dan Akaka and Dan Inouye have signed on to a letter authored by John Kerry and Patrick Leahy urging Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano to “stop deportations of married, same-sex bi-national couples until a final judicial decision can be reached on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.”

The senators, according to Metro Weekly, “ask the administration, among other steps, to put an abeyance policy in place that would halt the denial of green card applications for married same-sex foreign spouses who — in the absence of DOMA — would be eligible for a marriage-based green card based on sponsorship from the foreign spouse’s U.S. citizen spouse.”
 


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