Watching and reporting about Hawaii from Washington Place to Washington, D.C.

4:52 p.m. DHS to End SPAP

Due to a lack of funding, the Department of Human Services on July 1 is discontinuing the State Pharmacy Assistance Program, which subsidizes the co-payment for Medicare prescriptions for low-income seniors.

The change, according to a DHS press release, will affect 43,500 eligible Hawaii residents enrolled in the program.

“After much thought and multiple conversations with community groups, we made the difficult decision to end this program,” said Pat McManaman. “We will continue to pursue opportunities to restore medical assistance for low-income residents through all available means including patient centered medical homes, electronic health records, and modernization of our information technology infrastructure.”

SPAP began in 2007 as a state-funded program to subsidize Medicare Part D co-payments, but the Legislature never funded the program.

4:06 p.m. Hanabusa on Weiner Resignation

Colleen Hanabusa released this statement on the departure of Anthony Weiner from Congress today:

“Because of the distraction this situation created, Congressman Weiner realized it was in the best interest of his family, his constituents, and his personal being to resign. I wish him well and hope he will seek the help he needs so he and his family are able to move forward.”

3:50 p.m. AA Flight Attendants Endorse Hirono

Mazie Hirono has received the very early endorsement of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants in her U.S. Senate campaign.

“On every issue important to Flight Attendants and working families, Rep. Hirono is and has been in our corner,” said Laura Glading, president of the group, which represents the nearly 18,000 American Airlines flight attendants. “From protecting health and safety in the workplace to fighting for U.S. jobs, from health care reform to advocating for working families, Rep. Hirono has been outstanding.”

2:44 p.m. Gov Hints at Other Funding for Pro Bowl

Speaking to reporters outside the Blaisdell Center today, Neil Abercrombie acknowledged that Hawaii and the NFL both enjoy the experience when all-star games are in town. He recalled Fran Tarkenton practicing in Moiiliili “decades ago.”

“That’s something the players and their families have always looked forward to, and of course we look forward to it,” he said. “The question for us now is very, very simple: We need to have everyone understand, including friends on the mainland, that we are in fiscal constraints like everybody else. And to the degree that we can get sponsors, to the degree that we can get support and assistance, we need to do that.

The governor did not specify what those other funding sources might be. But he did reiterate his view that the state has more pressing priorities to tend to than football:

“We cannot see our Medicaid payments, for example, virtually disappearing with increased number of children and elderly and disabled on Medicaid necessity … early childhood education, these kinds of things. We simply have to have people stepping up and to understand that there has to be some shared support. What everybody has to recognize is, you can’t just take from Hawaii — there has to be some give, too.”

12:01 p.m. Hawaii Reps Oppose Ag, Rural Development Bill

The U.S. House today approved the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Act by a 217-203 vote.

The close vote was almost exclusively along party lines. Colleen Hanabusa and Mazie Hirono were in the minority.

As The Hill reports, “The final vote came after more than two full days of debate and voting on amendments, many of which would have cut agriculture spending even more than the $2.7 billion in discretionary cuts already offered in the bill. However, House member rejected these steeper cuts nearly every time.”

The Hill report continues:

In its final form, the bill still funds many discretionary programs at levels far below those sought by the Obama administration, which made for several hours of tense debate in the House and makes it unlikely that the Democratic Senate would approve the bill.

One of the biggest concerns Democrats had with the bill is the more than $600 million in cuts to the Women, Infants & Children nutrition program. These cuts largely remained intact, despite Democratic attempts on Tuesday to argue their case that this funding should be restored.

Republicans countered that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has other means of funding this program should enrollment increase and noted that enrollment has been falling.

11:28 a.m. Governor Signs Shield Law Extension

Neil Abercrombie has signed House Bill 1376, which extends the state’s Shield Law for journalists until June 30, 2013.

The law allows the news media the privilege of not disclosing of sources and unpublished information.

Advocates of the Shield Law had sought a permanent extension, but the Legislature agreed only to a two-year extension to allows the Judiciary time to study the impact of the law and report back to lawmakers.

11:07 a.m. Akaka, Inouye Vote to End Ethanol Tax Break

Dan Akaka and Dan Inouye were in the majority of a 73-27 vote today to kill a major tax break that benefits the ethanol industry.

As The Hill reports, the vote is “a political win to a bipartisan group of lawmakers that call the incentive needless and expensive. The vote also could have ramifications on future votes to reduce the deficit.”

The report continues:

(The) amendment to an economic development bill would quickly end the credit of 45 cents for each gallon of ethanol that fuel blenders mix into gasoline. 
The credit led to $5.4 billion in foregone revenue last year, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The amendment also ends the 54-cent per gallon import tariff that protects the domestic ethanol industry.

Thursday’s vote was a turnaround from Tuesday, when just 40 senators voted for (Sen. Tom) Coburn’s identical amendment, well shy of the 60 needed to advance it.

Senators today also voted 59-41 against John McCain‘s amendment to prohibit use of federal funds to build ethanol blender pumps or storage facilities. Inouye and Akaka were in the majority on that vote, too.

8:43 a.m. Neighbor Isle Gov’t News

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports that Billy Kenoi yesterday vetoed the County Council-approved budget, saying some of the council’s key changes were illegal:

“We submitted a balanced budget,” Kenoi said. “Amendments were made that are in violation of the county charter and county code. (The council) certainly could ignore the legal ramifications (of those violations). That’s within their prerogative.”

The Garden Island reports that the Kauai County Council has shelved a resolution to support a Trap, Neuter and Release program to deal with feral cats:

The council’s move makes Kauai’s endangered birds no safer against what Makaala Kaaumoana, vice chair of Hui Hoomalu i ka Aina, said may be “the most widespread alien predator in the world.”

West Hawaii Today reports that the Big Island could see lots of wildfires despite the recent increase in rainfall:

“We are expecting a dry summer even though we’ve been seeing a lot of rain recently in West Hawaii and islandwide. We are still below normal rainfall amounts and the trends have given the indication we could see more intense, active burning,” Hawaii Fire Department Chief Darryl Oliveira said Wednesday.

Akaka Co-Sponsors Refugee Protection

Dan Akaka is one of four U.S. senators along with a U.S. representative who introduced legislation yesterday intended to ensure U.S. protection for refugees and asylum seekers fleeing persecution.

According to a press release:

The Refugee Protection Act will help address shortfalls in current law, and help the U.S. fulfill its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention. Congress first addressed these obligations when it enacted the Refugee Act of 1980. The Refugee Protection Act would repeal the most harsh and unnecessary elements of current law. The bill introduction precedes international recognition of World Refugee Day, which is celebrated annually on June 20.

In a statement, Akaka said, “From the devastating aftermath of World War II through the landmark Refugee Act of 1980 to today, this bill continues our Nation’s historic commitment to provide safe haven to asylum seekers and refugees seeking freedom from persecution and oppression abroad.”

Ocean Policy ‘Listening’ Session

Obama Administration officials will hold a National Ocean Policy Listening Session in the Pacific Islands at the Neal Blaisdell Center Exhibition Hall this afternoon.

The purpose, according to a press release, is to “gather input from the public on the nine Strategic Action Plan content outlines that will guide the implementation of the United States National Ocean Policy; as established by Executive Order by President Obama in July 2010, to promote stewardship of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes.”

The complete policy can be viewed here.

Hearing: NAGPRA

It stands for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and it’s scheduled to be discussed in Dan Akaka’s Senate Committee on Indian Affairs this afternoon D.C. time.

NAGPRA provides a process for museums and federal agencies to return certain Native American cultural items to lineal descendants, Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations. 

The hearing will review the policy aims of NAGPRA “and examine successes and barriers in repatriating remains, funerary, sacred and patrimonial objects,” according to a press release.

Meeting: Hawaii Tourism Authority

There will be a special board meeting of the HTA board of directors this morning at the Hawaii Convention Center.

A top agenda item — as always — will be marketing. Someone’s bound to bring up the governor and the Pro Bowl too. 

Good news: China Eastern Airlines is working with the state Department of Transportation to establish nonstop service from Shanghai to Honolulu. The first regularly scheduled flights between China and Hawaii are expected run twice weekly beginning Aug. 9.

“We estimate this new flight will provide up to $60 million in annual visitor expenditures and stimulate new job growth in our islands,” Mike McCartney said in a statement.

Where’s Neil?

Here’s Neil:

• Opening remarks, Council on Environmental Quality National Oceans Policy Session, Neal Blaisdell Center, 1 p.m.

Catch up on previous coverage:

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