Regular legislative session is pau
On May 8, the gavel came down on the 2009 regular legislative session—one of the most contentious and difficult in recent memory.
The House and Senate extended by one day to vote on measures vetoed by the governor. When the Legislature is in session, Gov. Linda Lingle has 10 days to act on any bill she receives. She returned four tax bills and all were overridden by a two-thirds majority of the Legislature.
I had concerns about three of the measures, and voted to sustain two of the vetoes—one raising the Transient Accommodations Tax (aka hotel room tax); another raising income taxes—because the higher rates would have a negative impact on many of our small businesses, as well as tourism, Hawai‘i’s No. 1 economic engine. I agree that our income tax brackets need to be revamped, but not in this manner.
The fourth vetoed bill raises the tax on tobacco products other than cigarettes. Research shows when the cost of cigarettes rises, those addicted to nicotine, especially teens and young adults, turn to snuff and chewing tobacco, which are just as addictive and deadly. Act 58 increases the tax to be on par with the tax on cigarettes. I had introduced a similar Senate bill.
So far, 64 bills have become law—five, without the governor’s signature and four, over her objections. After adjournment, Gov. Lingle has 45 days to sign, veto or let the bill become law without signature. The Legislature may convene by noon on the 45th day to act on any bill returned by the governor. This year, that deadline is July 15. A list of the Acts, vetoed bills and other information about measures considered by the Legislature can be found at www.capitol.hawaii.gov.
Fighting for equality for all
The 2009 session was not short on controversy or high drama, and it was certainly a study in Senate, as well as constitutional, procedures. Such was the case with HB 444, the civil union bill.
Whether established relationships of gay and lesbian couples and families would be given equal treatment under the law was at the heart of this often-emotional issue. Supporters and opponents alike came out in massive numbers to make their opinions heard, flooding phones lines and inboxes with messages of support and opposition. Over the course of the legislative session, HB 444 seemed to die then come alive—an emotional rollercoaster for both sides.
Recalling a bill from committee is a rare occurrence. Hawai‘i’s constitution allows a minority of nine senators to pull a measure from committee, giving the entire Senate an opportunity to consider the bill. On nearly the last day of this session, I, along with other proponents of civil unions, was finally able to make one last attempt to pull the bill from the Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee where it lay on a 3-3 tie vote following a marathon 15-hour public hearing.
An earlier attempt had failed. This time, 10 senators voted to recall the bill from committee. However, instead of debating the merits of HB 444 and taking the second reading vote, the majority of the Senate ended up adopting a floor amendment that essentially tabled the amended bill for the remainder of the year.
What now? The Senate can take up the bill at the beginning of the 2010 regular session when passage on final reading will be in order. At that time, further amendments can be offered. When session closed, Senate leadership committed to work with both proponents and opponents to craft a measure that will attract broader support.
At this point, I honestly don’t know if it is possible. However, by continuing to be a strong voice for tolerance, fairness and a sense of community, those of us who believe in equality for all hope to revisit many important measures that did not pass this year and foster open-mindedness, along with greater collaboration.
In the interim
The governor recently announced another round of budget restrictions. The Legislature could be called back into session to address additional shortfalls. The Senate will likely convene during the interim to confirm nominees for vacancies in our courts.
I will make periodic reports throughout the interim and look forward to talking story with you in the community.
A hui hou.