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Abercrombie signs law protecting state health system

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    Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s handling of the public school teachers contract and other issues have demonstrated a lack of managerial finesse that one would expect from a chief executive.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Tuesday signed into law a measure designed to protect Hawaii’s unique health insurance system from federal health care changes, despite his previous threat to veto it.

The new law eliminates a section of state law calling for Hawaii’s health system to be repealed when federal legislation provides better coverage.

The bill is intended to ensure that Hawaii’s health law, which requires businesses to provide insurance coverage for full-time employees, would survive alongside the national health care law signed by President Barack Obama. 

“None of us thinks the ACA (Affordable Care Act) is as good as Hawaii’s Prepaid Health Care Act,” said Sen. Roz Baker, D-Honokohau-Makena. “The ACA has some very commendable provisions, but we didn’t want to lose our base.”

The Democratic governor said when he was considering a veto of the measure last month that further investigation was needed before modifying the state’s health law.

But he signed the bill after receiving opinions from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Labor that the state can retain its health law.

The bill’s passage “is a clear indication that Hawaii plans to retain the Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act,” Abercrombie’s office said in a news release.

In all, Abercrombie vetoed 17 bills and enacted 235 laws, including seven measures he let become law without his signature following the first legislative session since he took office in December. Eight bills that he had threatened to veto will become law.

Lawmakers in the Democrat-run Legislature didn’t feel a need to return to the Hawaii Capitol on Tuesday to override any of Abercrombie’s vetoes, said House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro.

“People in our caucus felt that the governor’s reasoning was either sound or they had some opportunity to have a discussion with him to clarify,” said Oshiro, D-Aiea-Halawa.

Abercrombie’s vetoes include bills that would have started electronic voter registration by 2014, created an unfunded food safety program, added mandatory minimum prison sentences for some felonies, eliminated statutes of limitations for civil actions in sexual offenses and required new outdoor lighting fixtures to be fully shielded to reduce light pollution.

He signed measures to study the impact of volcanic gasses on the Big Island, allow the government to consider selling land on Sand Island and create a plan for establishing a statewide system of greenways and trails.

Abercrombie vetoed fewer bills than former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle ever axed during her eight years in office. She vetoed at least 26 measures each year, peaking at 58 vetoes in 2008.

Before Lingle took office, governors had previously vetoed only one bill since statehood — an age of consent measure vetoed by Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano in 2001.


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