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SOTJ

February 6th, 2013
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The state House and Senate opted not to invite state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald to give a customary State of the Judiciary address this year to a joint session of the Legislature.

The chief justice typically gives the address in odd numbered years, as Recktenwald did in 2011.

Undeterred, Recktenwald delivered the address Wednesday through the Judiciary’s new YouTube channel.

“The tradition of Hawaii’s chief justice presenting a report to the legislature has been in place for at least 160 years,” the chief justice said in a statement. “We are updating that tradition for the digital era, and making the speech available to as broad an audience as possible.”

Moving

February 6th, 2013
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The state House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee on Wednesday moved out a bill that would gradually ramp down the state’s renewable energy tax credit.

The bill, which is still a work in progress in talks with the state Senate, would reduce the solar tax credit from 35 percent to 15 percent over five years. It would also remove tax credit dollar caps per system that had caused confusion and disputes among consumers, the solar industry and the state Department of Taxation.

The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism would conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the tax incentive in 2017 to determine whether it should be extended.

Rep. Chris Lee, the chairman of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, said he is still in talks with Sen. Mike Gabbard, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, over how to draft a production tax credit for utility-scale projects.

Curiosity

February 5th, 2013
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The AFL-CIO, hearing the buzz about a potential primary challenge to Gov. Neil Abercrombie next year, has conducted an automated telephone poll testing the governor against U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.

The poll, taken last week, showed Abercrombie trailing Hanabusa in a hypothetical primary match-up. The poll also had Abercrombie with low favorability and job approval ratings. Local labor sources described the survey as an early temperature check by the national AFL-CIO.

The horserace*:

Hanabusa: 42%

Abercrombie: 35%

Not sure: 23%

*(Based on 698 respondents. The margin of error was not immediately available.)

DKI Center

February 5th, 2013
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The Pacific Regional Center, which will house Hawaii operations of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will be renamed the Daniel K. Inouye Regional Center.

The center on Ford Island will house NOAA offices for the weather service, tsunami warning center, fisheries, sanctuaries, marine operations and enforcement. Inouye, who died in December, was an advocate for the center.

“Dan would be humbled by this kind gesture and I am very pleased that he was able to work with NOAA and the U.S. Navy to build his vision. The PRC will greatly improve the interoperability of NOAA’s assets in the Pacific and will contribute to the safety and health of Hawaii’s communities and precious ecosystems,” Irene Hirano Inouye, Inouye’s widow, said in a statement.

Hawaii officials are debating whether to name other local institutions in Inouye’s honor.

Popularity contest

February 4th, 2013
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Gov. Neil Abercrombie came down on Monday to testify in favor of his 21st century schools proposal before the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Economic Development, Government Operations and Housing Committee.

The bill, which would authorize the state Department of Education to identify public school land for redevelopment by the Hawaii Community Development Authority, is one of several variations of the controversial Public Land Development Corp.

The governor had first defended, then placed some distance between his administration and the PLDC. The hearing put him face-to-face with Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, the chairman of the Senate Economic Development, Government Operations and Housing Committee and one of the few legislators who have publicly supported the PLDC.

Dela Cruz joked that Abercrombie’s name is as unpopular as his in some of the environmental, Native Hawaiian and labor circles that have opposed the PLDC.

“I wouldn’t care to fight you for the designation,” Abercrombie told the senator in jest.

SB 1

February 1st, 2013
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State Sen. Malama Solomon told colleagues on Friday that the Senate Water and Land Committee would not be hearing a bill that would repeal the Public Land Development Corp. and would instead wait to see what the House sends over.

The House Water and Land Committee has scheduled a hearing on PLDC-related bills on Feb. 9.

Sen. Clayton Hee, who introduced the PLDC repeal bill — Senate Bill 1 — cautioned senators about the risk of waiting for a House action that may not transpire. In that event, senators may have to “gut and replace” legislation so a repeal could be heard in time to satisfy internal procedural deadlines.

“This is an issue that simply won’t go away,” Hee said.

Sen. Laura Thielen, who favors the repeal of the PLDC, also said she was disappointed that the Senate was deferring to the House.

Solomon, who has supported the PLDC as a potential source of new revenue for the state, said she had “gotten the message loud and clear” from her colleagues and would find a way to bring a repeal discussion to the Senate this session.

“If that’s the desire of this body, so be it,” she said.

Bankroll

January 31st, 2013
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Gov. Neil Abercrombie has brought in more than $2.4 million for his re-election campaign next year, according to a state campaign-finance report filed Thursday.

Abercrombie, who raised more than $4.5 million for his successful campaign in 2010, will have the early fundraising advantage and the benefit of incumbency at his back as he seeks a second four-year term.

The governor raised $2.4 million through the end of last year — $297,300 in the past six months — and had $1.4 million in cash on hand, according to the report. The money includes more than $383,950 left over from 2010.

6 to 5

January 30th, 2013
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For insiders interested in how the state House might function under new leadership, a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday afternoon offered a fascinating microcosm.

House Majority Leader Scott Saiki had introduced a bill that would have repealed liability protection for National Rifle Association firearms instructors who conduct state-mandated firearms’ training courses for people seeking firearms permits. The protection was passed into law only last session.

“I never understood why we are implementing the NRA’s national agenda in Hawaii,” said Saiki, a personal injury attorney.

A lobbyist for trial attorneys was the only one to speak out in favor of the bill before the House Judiciary Committee. Dozens of gun enthusiasts filled the third-floor hearing room to oppose the bill, while hundreds more sent written testimony.

The Hawaii Rifle Association described the bill as a “back door gun ban,” because it could prompt NRA instructors to stop teaching the training courses for fear of liability, leading to fewer courses and less people meeting the requirement necessary for gun permits. Several lumped the bill with attempts nationally to restrict Second Amendment rights in response to the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., last year.

Rep. Karl Rhoads, the committee’s chairman, wanted to advance the bill with amendments. But he first explained to lawmakers that he would not be upset if they voted against his recommendations on bills.

It has long been the practice in both the House and Senate for lawmakers to follow committee chairmen, so `no’ votes are relatively uncommon, particularly among majority Democrats. It is even more unusual for a committee to reject a bill recommended by a chairman.

But Rep. Ken Ito complained that House leadership — Saiki — had bypassed the House Public Safety Committee and referred the bill only to the House Judiciary Committee. He questioned why lawmakers would even hear the bill when the liability protection was just approved last year.

Rep. Sharon Har, the vice chairwoman of the committee, who has complained about the bill referral process under the new leadership, echoed Ito. She also noted that the testimony was overwhelmingly in opposition to the bill.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen, a Republican who is part of the new leadership coalition, asked Rhoads to delay action until lawmakers and NRA gun experts could see his proposed amendments in writing.

Rhoads declined and called for a vote.

The bill failed to advance 6 to 5. The majority not only went against the committee chairman, they went against the committee chairman on a bill sponsored by the majority leader.

Four of the `no’ votes came from Democrats who had been loyal to former House Speaker Calvin Say; two came from Thielen and another Republican who organized with House Speaker Joseph Souki and Saiki.

Both Saiki and Rhoads said afterward that they did not attempt to influence the vote, and did not seem particularly unhappy that the bill was rejected. “I lost,” Rhoads said simply.

Cracks in the shield

January 29th, 2013
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The state House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday agreed to make permanent a state law protecting journalists and bloggers from disclosing confidential sources or other information, but expanded the exceptions to the law to include a broader range of serious crimes and civil actions.

Journalists and bloggers could have to disclose information if there is substantial evidence that it is material to the investigation, prosecution or defense of a felony, potential felony, serious crime involving unlawful injury to people or animals, or a civil action. The existing shield law, which expires in July, only includes exceptions for felonies or for civil actions involving defamation.

“I think the only way for reporters to do their jobs is to be able to keep their sources private for the most part. I also don’t want it to be an impediment to actual law enforcement,” said Rep. Karl Rhoads (D, Chinatown-Iwilei-Kalihi), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which sent House Bill 622 to the full House. “And I suppose it’s a fine line.”

Jeff Portnoy, an attorney working with the Hawaii Shield Law Coalition, which represents news media interests, including the Star-Advertiser, said expanding the exceptions to include all civil actions is unacceptable. He said there was unanimity when the law was drafted in 2008 under the Lingle administration that the only exception for civil actions be for defamation cases.

“To try to carve out the civil case exception is totally unacceptable and really going back to a position that was rejected five years ago and should remain rejected,” Portnoy said.

Forty states and the District of Columbia have shield laws to protect journalists, according to the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, but many include exceptions that require the disclosure of information under certain circumstances. Hawaii’s law is considered a model by some because it extends the shield law protection to bloggers and other non-traditional journalists.

The state Attorney General’s office under the Abercrombie administration has argued that the protection for bloggers is far too broad and should be removed from the law. The administration also wants to add an exception stating that defendants in criminal cases have a constitutional right to information necessary for a fair trial. The administration would also remove the protection for all unpublished information.

State Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Heeia-Laie-Waialua), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, said the Senate would consider the attorney general’s arguments and the House amendments when senators hear the bill. He said senators have some concern about anonymous sources, as well as the definition of who qualifies as non-traditional journalists.

Some advocates for the news media believe it is important that the shield law cover bloggers and others who produce news and information on the Internet that is similar to the work of traditional journalists.

“I think what we’re trying to protect here is journalism, not journalists,” said Gerald Kato, a communications professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa and a former Honolulu Advertiser reporter. “And journalism involves dissemination of information in the public interest, and that’s a lot broader scope than just journalists who work for a newspaper or a television station.”

`The time has come’

January 28th, 2013
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U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, has joined other prominent Democrats in urging state lawmakers to approve same-sex marriage.

From the senator:

The time has come to make marriage equality a reality for Americans around the country, so that all people can exercise that right in freedom and without restriction. I am pleased that President Obama supports marriage equality, and that the State of Hawai’i has a proud history of leadership in civil rights. I encourage State lawmakers to pass legislation that will ensure equal rights for all Hawaii residents.