PDHblog This is a place for members of Progressive Democrats of Hawai‘i to express their thoughts, hopes and exasperations about political happenings.

January 22, 2011

Civil Unions – The time is right!

Filed under: HI Politics,Legislature — Tags: , — rachel @ 1:25 pm

The time may *finally* be right to enact a “civil unions” law in Hawaii. After a  roller coaster session last year, HB444 relating to Civil Unions was approved by the legislature only to be vetoed by the Governor, making it farther than any other similar bill had in Hawaii. [A decent summary of HB444 history can be read on wikipedia.] After a very public and emotional fight during an election year, politicians on the record in favor of equal rights for all were returned to their seats by voters despite efforts against them by religious groups opposed to HB444. That most important “poll” conducted in the voting booths, coupled with the election of a new Governor who is in favor of Civil Unions set up the current legislative session as an opportune time to pass legislation that would grant all the rights, protections and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples. The common feeling as the legislative session approached was that a civil unions bill would be introduced, heard and passed quickly and early in the session so that lawmakers could then move on to other less contentious topics.

So here we are. The legislative session opened on Weds Jan 19th. Thursday and Friday seemed to be mostly house-keeping days as committee seats were assigned and bills were introduced. A quick look at the legislature’s website shows that so far 1096 bills have been introduced in the Senate and 820 have been introduced in the House. A text search shows that of those, 2 Senate bills — SB231 & SB232 —  relate to civil unions. More on the difference between these two bills later. Late on Friday afternoon, after many people had moved on to pau hana happy hours, a notice was released announcing a hearing for SB232 on Monday at 10am. We had expected a bill to be heard early, but wow, that was really fast! Now it is time to do our part and get our testimonies together over the weekend and submit them before 4pm on Monday.

First of all — please do your part and submit testimony enthusiastically supporting civil unions, and equality for LGBT families, by Monday January 24, before 4 pm.  Select one of these ways to submit testimony:

  1. By email: Send to the Judiciary Committee at JDLTestimony@Capitol.hawaii.gov. Testimony sent to individual senators will not be accepted.
  2. By web: Testimony may be submitted online if less than 4MB in size at http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/emailtestimony.
  3. In person: Bring one copy to the committee clerk in Room 002, State Capitol.
  4. By fax: Fax to the Senate Sergeant-At-Arms Office at 808-586-6659 or 1-800-586-6659 (toll free for neighbor islands), at least 24 hours prior to the hearing.

Submitted testimony must include the bill number (SB232), as well as the hearing date and time (January 25, 10 am). The most effective testimony is a brief paragraph that tells the committee who you are and why you support equality. If you can’t find the testimony you submitted last year, or if you want to get ideas from others, all of last years testimony can be viewed here.

Now, onto some rambling commentary after the jump…

I was curious as to what other bills might have hearings this early in the session. Clicking on “current hearing notices” shows that there are 4 hearings currently scheduled: 1 relating to education sb8, specifically to address the procedures necessary for the new appointed school board; 2 relating to civil unions sb232; 3 & 4 are informational briefings. So it seems that this issue really has been pushed to the front of the line. We should be happy right? I hope so. There is a part of me that wonders if any games are being played behind the scenes.

Interestingly, the hearing is scheduled to be held in room 016, which is a very small room in the bottom floor of the capitol. I remember last year’s marathon hearing that had a crowd overflowing out of the much larger auditorium. Perhaps someone thought that maybe we wouldn’t notice this hearing that got announced as we slipped into our weekend? Fat chance. I am sure the opposition will use their Sunday gatherings to organize a response.

Why is SB232 being heard but not SB231? Before speculating on that question, one must know the difference between those two bills. SB232 is essentially the same as HB444 that was passed and then vetoed last year. The only difference (I believe) is the effective date. OK, sounds pretty good since we really wanted to enact HB444 last year, right? Yes, but… SB231 was written as an updated and “fixed” version of HB444. During hearings last year, some technical issues were pointed out that could make implementation more difficult than it needed to be. Hawaii Reporter erroneously claims that it “tweaks the first version and adds even more tax and other benefits for unmarried couples.” In actuality all it “tweaked” were some technical issues that should make it easier to interpret and to implement. Read the text of the bill for yourself here.

Hard to say why the chair of the JDL Cte, Sen. Clayton Hee, chose to hear SB232 over SB231. Perhaps he thinks that since we have already heard arguments for and against a bill with that exact same language ad nauseum that it will go through easier? I suppose. However, if given the time and opportunity to fix technical issues that there wasn’t time to do last session, why not take advantage of it? The good news is that if SB232 can pass out of the Senate, which it should be able to do easily,  it will then cross over to the House. The House will then have the opportunity to make changes to the bill that would then have to be approved by the Senate once again. At least this time the Senate JDL Cte has an odd number of members so we won’t have to deal with a potential tie again.

Overall, I am very happy that we are getting the opportunity to speak out in favor of equality for all so early in the session. Let’s make sure our voices are heard loud and clear. Then we can watch with pride as Governor Abercrombie signs the bill into law.

4 Comments »

  1. Thanks Rachel for the post. Those of us who have been working so hard on this over the last few years were definitely a bit surprised, but pleased to have the hearing just four days after the opening of the 2011 Session.

    While I hesitate to speculate too much on Senator Hee’s motivation for hearing SB232, which is HB444 reborn, rather than the much improved and comprehensive SB231, it is a bit of a mystery. You may be right that the JDL Chair simply wanted to move on the simplest and quickest path to passing a Civil Unions bill and for that I don’t blame him. On the other hand, SB232 in its current form is not as good as it could be.

    Leading up to the session, my fear has been that some legislator(s) would introduce bills that would complicate the expeditious passage of a good Civil Unions bill. A marriage bill was my biggest fear, but as it happens having multiple versions of a Civil Unions bill is actually worse.

    Should Senator Hee’s bill come out of committee without amendments to make it closer, or identical to SB231, and it is amended in the House, the bill will be forced back to the Senate and that will extend its time in the Legislature and I think we all agree that each day it takes for the bill to reach the Governor increases the likelihood for stall tactics, shenanigans and potentially the failure of the bill to pass.

    What I’d like to see is SB232 amended in JDL so that its language mirrors that of SB231. That way, when it goes to the House, they can pass it quickly and get it to the Governor as soon as possible. What the likelihood of that is, I don’t know, but we’re certainly going to hope for and do our best.

    Comment by OahuSophist — January 23, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

  2. I stopped posting on this blog long ago because so few people use it that it don’t seem worth even checking regularly.

    But I went to the Senate Hearing on SB 232 (Civil Unions Bill) a few days ago and I was very pleased and grateful to see so many PDH faces there.

    I am especially grateful that a lot of heterosexuals would be willing to take time out of their busy lives to spend hours sitting at the legislature fighting for the rights of OTHER people, ….. gay people. Special mahalos to Rachel, Bart and Josh, who were all there. I do not believe any of them will PERSONALLY benefit from the bill in question. And that makes them double heros as far as I’m concerned.

    What else can I say ?

    You folks are the greatest !

    Comment by Joe — January 27, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

  3. Joe is right. Kudos to PDH for their support of Civil Unions.

    Comment by Al — February 13, 2011 @ 6:43 pm

  4. On the subject, I wish the caucuses could get some coordination. Everyone wants to get their own version of the bill passed.

    Comment by Al — February 13, 2011 @ 6:45 pm

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