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Tuesday, September 23, 2014         

CIVIL UNIONS


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Senate panel OKs SB 232

A House leader intends to offer a similar measure today after the Senate bill passes with a 3-2 vote

By B.J. Reyes

POSTED:


A proposal to allow couples — same- or opposite-sex — to enter into a civil union took its first step in the state Legislature as lawmakers appear ready to move quickly on the issue.

Senate Bill 232 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 3-2 vote, with only technical amendments. The measure is expected to come up for a vote on the Senate floor Friday.

"With a subject like this that, admittedly, a lot of people have some real strong feelings about, it's better to do it this time of the year because we have some time flexibility," said Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Kaneohe-Kahuku), chairman of the committee. "When we get toward middle of session, the time is so tight that as a practical matter it's very difficult."

In the House, Majority Leader Rep. Blake Oshiro said he plans to introduce a bill today, then see how quickly the Senate acts on SB 232, which would grant couples in a civil union all the rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of traditional marriage. It is substantively the same as House Bill 444, Senate Draft 1, which was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle last year.

"I'm very pleased that it moved expeditiously, and hopefully the House will be able to do the same when it comes over, assuming it comes over," said Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa).

Oshiro said the House bill will mirror a similar Senate bill that is not being heard.

Senate Bill 231 is more expansive and addresses some concerns surrounding implementation of a civil unions law. The bill was crafted by Gov. Neil Abercrombie's policy advisers, gay activists and select lawmakers and written to ensure that the rights extend to applicable health, insurance and tax codes.

Although Abercrombie supports civil unions, SB 231 was not included in his legislative package. At a news conference on a separate matter, Abercrombie did not take questions on civil unions.

Hee said his committee had no plans to hear SB 231.

"I think 231 is not complete yet," he said. "I, frankly, believe that sending the House a clean bill gives them a wider playing field to work on if they want to tweak it more."

Oshiro said the House would wait for the Senate bill to come over, and then he would work with House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Gil Keith-Agaran (D, Kahului-Paia) on how to proceed.

Yesterday's hearing for SB 232 was swift, lasting a little more than two hours as Hee sought to keep the hearing moving by limiting testifiers to 1 1/2 minutes each, saying he did not believe anything material could be added to the discussion.

Supporters and opponents packed the state Capitol auditorium for the hearing on SB 232, but the crowd was substantially smaller than last year, when the hearing lasted 18 hours.

Voting in favor of SB 232 was Hee, along with Sens. Maile Shimabukuro and Les Ihara. Opposing votes were by Sens. Mike Gabbard and Sam Slom.

Testimony was roughly split.

Advocates said the public had spoken in support of civil unions by electing Abercrombie over James "Duke" Aiona, an outspoken opponent of civil unions.

Opponents argued that passing civil unions would put the state closer to same-sex marriage and urged lawmakers to instead focus on economic issues.

 

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