Welcome to Capitol Watch. The Hawaii Legislature has less than three weeks to go, and balancing the budget remains issue No. 1.

5:58 p.m. Governor Mourns Passing of Ballard

Neil Abercrombie issued a statement this afternoon on the death of U.S. Naval Veteran Fred W. Ballard, who passed away Sunday at the Center for Aging at Tripler Army Hospital:

“The word selfless is used too often and too loosely, but selfless is the right word to describe Fred Ballard. He selflessly gave of himself in his service to others.  

“Fred understood the values of democracy and freedom so much so that he dedicated his retirement years to the efforts of the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center as well as fighting for veterans’ rights.  

“His contributions will never be forgotten.”

Ballard, 72, was a Vietnam veteran, Department of Veterans Affairs public affairs officer and longtime activist who helped establish the Oahu Veterans Center.

4:42 p.m. UPDATE: 150 Easter Baskets for IHS

The Legislative Women’s Caucus donated more than 150 Easter Baskets to the Institute for Human Services today.

The baskets contain essential household items such as laundry soap, utensils, pots and pans, dishes, toiletries and towels.

“We thank everyone who supported our Welcome Home Easter Basket drive, as these baskets will make a huge difference in the lives of our most vulnerable citizens,” Roz Baker, who coordinated the Senate’s donations, said in a press statement.

4:02 p.m. Charlie Sheen Doubts Obama’s Birth Origins

POLITICO reports that Charlie Sheen says he, too, is unconvinced that Barack Obama is an American citizen.

Sheen’s remarks came during his performance at Washington DAR Constitution Hall.

Says POLITICO:

Sheen cited a Huffington Post presidential poll that, he said, “had me annihilating that lunatic from Alaska,” said Sheen, referring to former Gov. Sarah Palin.

Other polls, said Sheen, “had me beating our president.”

“Is that the craziest f— idea ever?” Sheen asked the friendly crowd, who cheered in support of a potential presidential bid by the longtime (and recently deposed) star of “Two and a Half Men.”

“For starters, I was f—king born here, how about that? And I got proof! Nothing photoshopped about my birth certificate.”

3:40 p.m. Kauai Elderly Affairs Agency Wants More Funds

The Garden Island reports that Kauai‘s Agency on Elderly Affairs is seeking $1.31 million to fund operations in fiscal year 2012, an increase of $111,000 from the current fiscal year’s funding:

The vast majority of the increase is in wages and benefits, mostly because of the end of furloughs. …

The agency seeks to develop Hawaii’s Aging and Disability Resource Center to a fully functioning capacity, serving all persons regardless of age. The ADRC serves as a one-stop source of information … to empower older adults, people with disabilities and caregivers to make informed choices and to streamline access to long-term support.

1:01 p.m. Half of Iowa GOP Doubts Obama Birthplace

An automated survey from Public Policy Polling says 48 percent of Iowa Republicans doubt that Barack Obama was born the the U.S. Another 26 percent said they weren’t sure.

POLITICO says of the new poll:

Donald Trump’s birther crusade could be a boon in Iowa, and “Romneycare” could dog the former Massachusetts governor in the first-in-the-nation caucus …

Trump has driven the widely discredited “birther” issue into the national spotlight as he flirts with an entry into the White House race, placing at the front of the pack in several national polls.

In Iowa, Trump comes in third with 14 percent of the vote, just two points behind Mitt Romney with 16 percent. Mike Huckabee is currently leading in the state, with 27 percent support from Iowa Republicans.

The poll of 419 Iowa Republicans was conducted April 15-17 and has a 4.8 percentage point margin of error.

12:20 p.m. Christie Pot Trial Delayed Again

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports that a federal trial for self-proclaimed Big Island marijuana minister Roger Christie has been postponed until July:

Christie and his co-defendants, who collectively call themselves the “Green 14,” were scheduled to face trial April 26 in U.S. District Court. Trial is now set for July 6 at 9 a.m. before U.S. District Judge David Ezra.

This is the second time Christie’s trial has been postponed. He was originally scheduled to face a jury last Sept. 8.

The 61-year-old Christie is accused of operating a marijuana distribution ring out of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry in Hilo. His defense counsel, federal public defender Matthew Winter, requested the postponement to continue trial preparation.

Christie and the others defendants were arrested last July 8, but all but Christie have been released on bail.

11:25 a.m. HGEA Vote ‘Bittersweet’ For Some

KITV reports that some members of the HGEA are accepting ratification of their new contract this week like a “bitter pill”:

“It’s bittersweet because it is a cut and this is the second contract in a row we’ve had to face a cut and I know the public thinks we are overpaid, but that’s not true when you compare our wages to others,” HGEA member Roger Thoren said.

An HGEA worker who made $50,000 three years ago has been making about $45,000, 10 percent less, for almost two years while getting two furlough days off a month. The proposed contract would bring the salary up to $47,500, five percent less than the 2009 salary with six hours of flexible time off every month.

On the flyer given members urging them to ratify the contract, the union leadership pointed out that given the state’s financial situation, had the contact gone to arbitration it could have been worse.

10:02 a.m. Gov Press Conference on Electric Cars.

Neil Abercrombie is scheduled for a press conference from 1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The occasion is Better Place’s Electric Car Charge Station.

The governor is also expected to deliver remarks from noon to 1 p.m. at the nearby Sheraton Waikiki. The occasion is Statewide Career Technical Assessment for the DOE.

8:41 a.m. Rally: Clean Energy

Blue Planet Foundation is organizing a rally at the Capitol that begins with sign-waving on Beretania Street at 10:30 a.m. and includes greetings from the governor (around 11:15 a.m.) and state House and Senate recognition (around noon).

Titled “We Have the Power,” the focus of the rally is to promote House Bill 1520, which directs the Public Utilities Commission to, in wonky bill language, “consider implementing an on-bill financing program for residential electric utility customers to finance purchases of energy efficient or renewable energy devices and systems through their regular electric utility bills.”

The nonprofit Blue Planet argues that HB 1520 will “eliminate the restrictive upfront cost of efficiency upgrades such as solar power and energy-saving appliances. Residents will be able to pay off the purchases directly on their electric bill by applying the energy savings over time. On-bill financing makes clean energy accessible to everyone — not just big companies that can finance big renewable projects.”

HB 1520 is supported by the Sierra Club, DCCA and the Hawaii Solar Energy Association, but the PUC and the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative do not support it, and Hawaiian Electric. Nor has Hawaiian Electric embraced the measure, warning that it won’t be cost-effective to administer.

Easter Baskets for IHS

The Women’s Legislative Caucus will line up Easter baskets for needy families at the chamber level turnaround of the Capitol at 2 p.m. The items will be picked up by the Institute for Human Services, Hawaii’s largest emergency shelter for people who are homeless.

According to a press release, “Each year, the caucus puts out a call for Easter baskets or plastic storage containers filled with personal hygiene items, toiletries, essential household items and non-perishable food items to benefit clients of IHS. The caucus has collected about 200 baskets each year since 2008.”

The items will go to IHS clients transitioning to permanent homes.
 

Abercrombie’s ‘Way Forward’

The governor’s latest weekly message, which can be viewed and read here, is titled “The Way Forward.”

It’s all about the budget:

We can move Hawaii forward without raising the general excise tax and without Furlough Fridays.

And we can do it without deeper cuts. Cutting government in today’s circumstances may bring short-term savings but it will harm people and businesses and create dire long-term costs. We cannot let this happen.

Together, we are facing a 1.3 billion dollar deficit. If we are going to raise taxes, which we must to get out of this hole, then we should accept nothing less than giving taxpayers more value for their dollars. That is the basis of our plan and my promise to you.


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