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Civil unions’ fate unknown

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Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday that she had not made up her mind on civil unions and described her deliberations on the bill as perhaps the most difficult of her political career.

The governor placed the bill on her potential veto list, which gives her 10 working days — or until July 6 — to decide whether to veto, sign or allow the bill to become law without her signature.

Lingle, who leaves office after two terms later this year, has said she did not want civil unions to be her legacy. But she has not tried to minimize the impact of her decision and said yesterday she has gone back and forth in her mind.

Lingle has described civil unions as drafted in the bill as equivalent to same-sex marriage, which she opposes.

"I’ve been in public office a very, very long time. And my personal opinion is not necessarily the one that I end up with, and especially in important cases," the governor said at a news conference at the state Capitol.

The bill would grant same-sex and heterosexual couples the ability to enter into civil unions and receive the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as marriage under state law.

Lingle said she is taking the full amount of time available under state law not just because of the public interest or to make the best decision, but to present her decision in an appropriate way.

"When the decision gets made, we all have to live together here in Hawaii," she said. "Whichever way this goes, we’re still one ohana. You may disagree with me, but we’re still living on an island together."

The governor will likely have the final word on civil unions this year. State House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro (D, Aiea, Halawa Valley, Aiea Heights), the bill’s sponsor, said the House does not have the two-thirds’ vote necessary to override a veto.

State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli, Makaha) said she believes she has the two-thirds’ vote for an override. But the Senate would likely not act unless it was clear both chambers would override.

"We’re hopeful that she will eventually veto it," said Francis Oda, chairman of the Hawaii Family Forum, which opposes civil unions. "We’re praying. That’s what we do."

Tambry Young, the lead advocate for Citizens for Equal Rights, which supports the bill, said she is encouraged that Lingle is keeping her options open.

"I want her to do as much as she needs to do to pass this bill," Young said. "That’s my main concern. We know she is a governor of the people and we want to stay focused on it being an equal rights issue."

Meanwhile, five more Hawaii Business Roundtable members have distanced themselves from the organization’s call to Lingle to veto the civil unions bill. The companies are:

» Alexander & Baldwin Inc., which released a statement yesterday that it did not participate in any discussion regarding the bill.

» Foodland, which said to supporters that it had no part in asking for a veto of the bill.

» Hawaii Pacific Health, which in a letter to civil union supporters said it does not endorse the letter.

» Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals Inc., which sent a letter to Lingle, citing the company’s policies on nondiscrimination.

» Kyo-ya Company LLC, which said in a letter to supporters and Lingle that it was "disappointed" with the letter.

Roundtable Executive Director Gary K. Kai sent the veto request to the governor on June 4. He said last week that the executive committee stands by the letter.

Whatever Lingle decides, activists on both sides will likely make civil unions an issue in the September primary and November general election.

State House and Senate leaders said they hoped civil unions, while an important issue, would not be the only issue voters consider.

"I would hope that this never becomes a litmus test for the effectiveness of a legislator," said Oshiro, who is likely facing City Councilman Gary Okino, an opponent of civil unions, in a House primary.

Majority Democrats in the House and Senate are scheduled to meet in private caucuses today to review the governor’s veto list.

Star-Advertiser reporter Gene Park contributed to this report.



Gov. Linda Lingle placed 39 bills on her potential veto list yesterday, which gives her another 10 working days — or until July 6 — to decide whether to veto, sign or allow the bills to become law without her signature. Lingle and Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona have already vetoed 15 bills this year. Eleven of the vetoes have been overridden by the state Legislature. The state Legislature can return for a one-day veto override session. Here are some of the bills on the veto list:

» Civil unions (House Bill 444): Allows same-sex and heterosexual couples to enter into civil unions and receive the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as marriage under state law.

» Itemized deductions (HB 1907): Caps itemized deductions for higher-income taxpayers until 2015 to save an estimated $26 million annually to help with the state’s budget deficit. Temporarily makes a capital goods tax credit nonrefundable, which would save the state about $7 million annually.

» High-technology tax credits (Senate Bill 2001): Ends a high-technology tax credit program known as Act 221 in May instead of December, which would save the state about $13 million. Extends a separate research tax credit for one year.

» Appointed school board (HB 2377): Creates a state Board of Education selection advisory council to recommend nominees for an appointed statewide school board to the governor. Reduces the school board to 10 members from 14, including a nonvoting student member. The bill is a companion to a state constitutional amendment creating an appointed school board, which is before voters in November.

» Education salaries (SB 2434): Expands the salary cap for the state schools superintendent from $150,000 annually to $160,000 annually and offers performance bonuses that could eventually raise the salary to $250,000 a year.

» Hawaiian Home Lands (HB 1015): A pilot project that allows the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to start housing projects without having the full cost available. Sets aside 15 percent of all lease revenue from the extensions of commercial and multipurpose project leases to benefit Hawaiians and Hawaiian groups.

» Prison audit (HB 415): Directs the state auditor to conduct a financial and management audit of the state Department of Public Safety’s contract with the Corrections Corp. of America to house Hawaii prisoners on the mainland and at the federal detention center in Honolulu.

» Sexual human trafficking (SB 2045): Establishes the offenses of first- and second-degree sexual human trafficking.

» Complaint records (HB 1212): Limits public disclosure of complaint records against licensed professionals to complaints that have been resolved.


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