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Monday, October 20, 2014         

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Roundtable sticks to civil-unions stance

More members of the business group shy away from a letter urging the bill's veto

By B.J. Reyes

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The Hawaii Business Roundtable stood by its letter urging Gov. Linda Lingle to veto a measure that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions as more member organizations sought to disassociate themselves from the position statement.

Executive Director Gary K. Kai said he considered an update or revision of the statement but ultimately decided against it.

"The executive committee still stands behind that letter," Kai said yesterday.

Hawaii Medical Service Association, the state's largest health insurer, and Hawaii National Bank were the latest Business Roundtable members to speak out, saying they were not informed of the letter until after it became public. Five Roundtable members issued statements Thursday disassociating themselves from the letter.

Robert P. Hiam, HMSA president and chief executive officer, said the insurer takes a strong stance on the issue.

"Our organization opposes discrimination on any basis, and in keeping with that philosophy, had we been consulted on this matter, we would not have supported the decision to call for a veto of HB (House Bill) 444," Hiam said in a letter to Carolyn Martinez Golojuch, president of the equal-rights group PFLAG-Oahu, who made the statement public.

The governor returns today from a two-week trip to Asia and has until Monday to inform the Legislature of bills she might veto. Advisers close to the governor say HB 444 is likely to be on the list. Lingle has until July 6 to decide whether to sign, veto or let the bill become law without her signature.

HB 444 would grant all the same rights, privileges and protections of traditional marriage to couples in a civil union.

In the June 4 letter, signed by Kai, the Business Roundtable's 10-member executive committee urged Lingle to veto the bill in part because of "the manner in which the legislation was drafted."

The letter does not take a position on civil unions, but takes issue with the bill's language and the potential for more questions to arise as the legislation is implemented. It suggests the formation of a commission to study the matter and make recommendations for next session.

Kai declined to say how many executive committee members were consulted on the letter or whether member organizations were polled.

Civil-rights groups, including Golojuch's PFLAG organization, sought out Roundtable members to ask whether they were advised of the committee's actions and whether they supported the veto, prompting the statements from some members this week.

Meanwhile, attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal met privately Thursday with Kai at the invitation of state Sen. Les Ihara -- a key supporter of the measure -- to address the Roundtable's concerns.

In a two-page memo, the attorneys outlined "key reasons why (Business Roundtable) members can feel confident that the law can be implemented smoothly."

The memo was distributed to all Roundtable members at a meeting Thursday morning.

"I don't see any inadequately addressed issues that could be the basis for their recommendation of a veto of HB 444," Ihara said, "but it is (the Roundtable) executive committee's right to come to their own conclusion."






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