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Let HB 444 become state law

In what she describes as her toughest call yet, Gov. Linda Lingle is soon to decide on a bill giving the rights and protections of married spouses in this state to couples in a civil union.

House Bill 444 has drawn a stark division in the community between those who see it as a threat to marriage and those who believe it provides equality that’s been lacking.

On one score, Lingle already has made the right decision: She’s invited comments from both sides, interviewed advocates and opponents alike and taken all the time allowed by law to consider the issue. But when that time expires July 6, she should respect the wide support for HB 444 in both legislative houses and allow the measure to become law, with or without her signature.

The governor can do so without compromising her belief in marriage. Civil unions are distinct, simply according legal rights to couples whom federal law bars from marriage, a status that comes with federal rights and social conventions as well.

It’s a matter of basic fairness, ensuring that the state gives couples a clear path to services and protections that otherwise can elude them. Clarity in such things improves efficiency of government for all, as well as for couples themselves.

HB 444 tops the public-interest list but is only one of 39 measures potentially facing a veto. Some are complex and require further deliberation, but the right choice for the governor is clearer in other cases.

For example, Lingle should not veto:

» HB 2377. This would create an advisory selection council to guide appointment of school board members. Voters will decide this fall on a constitutional amendment enabling the governor to appoint the Board of Education. If that passes, the council would provide a rational means of vetting candidates.

» HB 415. Enacting this bill would authorize an audit of state contracts with mainland prisons and the federal detention center. Such a study is needed to evaluate the controversial practice of sending Hawaii convicts out of state.



» Senate Bill 2045. This measure focuses on the definitions and penalties for sex trafficking — an effort to focus years of discussion over the broader issue of human trafficking on the most egregious offenses.

Such a focus is essential, especially for the protection of children. Lawmakers from the Women’s Caucus, who met this week with FBI officials, were told that Honolulu ranks among the country’s major destination cities for people wanting to solicit child prostitution. That’s a disturbing revelation. But battling this scourge requires a better weapon than SB 2045, which has been criticized by local prosecuting attorneys and public defenders alike who say the bill is plagued by overlaps with existing law and other impediments to effective prosecution.

These parties must come to the table next session to fix this bill. There’s also potential for consensus around legislation to provide a better haven for the juvenile trafficking victims in particular.

» HB 1212. This would bar the state from posting online notices of complaints filed against businesses or professionals until the complaints are resolved. And that would deny consumers notification of complaints under review — information that could be helpful to those seeking services.

» SB 2849. This measure would exempt from the state budget process the more than $478 million in 2011 appropriations for the Hawaii Employer-Union Benefits Trust Fund. That’s a troubling prospect: The governor and Legislature need to maintain some control of this allotment.

The veto is one of the most potent privileges of the executive in our democratic system of government. Gov. Lingle’s use of due diligence in the civil unions question is admirable, and the same care and attention should apply as she exercises that power for the final time in her tenure on the state Capitol’s fifth floor.


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