Every legislative session is defined more by failure than triumph. Hundreds of bills are introduced each year, and most are snuffed out quietly in committee, killed once they reach the floor or impaled by the Governor’s veto pen. Of course, no legislative death is permanent—there’s always another session to tweak and reintroduce a bill and hope the winds of fate and political will have shifted.
The 2011 session is no exception. Lawmakers on Oahu have introduced bills dealing with a number of familiar issues. Here’s a handful of interesting ones, and a look at whether they’ll be among the lucky few that avoid the chopping block.
CIVIL UNIONS, TAKE THREE
The Bill For the third straight year, same-sex couples are fighting for the right to legally wed in Hawaii. Civil union bills died in 2009 and 2010—via a Senate stalling tactic and a Gov. Lingle veto, respectively. On January 28, the Senate approved by a 19-6 vote SB232, which, “Extends the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union.” The bill is now moving through the House and action is expected soon.
Will It Pass? House leaders say they have the votes and Gov. Abercrombie has promised to sign it. This looks like the year gay-rights proponents finally get to celebrate—but expect backlash and possible lawsuits from the vocal and well-organized opposition.
The Bill In November, Hawaii voters said “yes” to the idea of an appointed, rather than elected, Board of Education. Now a bill—SB8—that would allow the Governor to select BOE members subject to Senate confirmation has sailed unanimously through the Senate and passed its first reading in the House.
Will It Pass? Abercrombie criticized the appointed-board ballot measure during the campaign—and took heat for it from his Republican opponent, Duke Aiona—but with clear stamps of approval from the voters and the legislature, the change seems inevitable.
ROLLING THE DICE ON GAMBLING
The Bill It’s as certain as the sunrise: every year a handful of gambling bills are introduced, with the promise of injecting cash into state coffers and juicing the local economy. And every year various groups—from environmentalists to religious conservatives—express outrage. This year’s batch includes a bill that would allow slot machines in Waikiki, one that would green-light gaming on Hawaiian Home Lands and one that could involve Hawaii in a multi-state lottery.
Will It Pass? Besides games of chance, all the bills have something in common: they’re probably headed nowhere. As of this writing only one—HB394—had received a public hearing, and it was deferred. Meaning the safe money’s on Hawaii remaining a (legal) gambling-free zone.
DREDGING UP THE SUPERFERRY
The Bill Almost exactly two years after the Supreme Court ordered it out of the water, supporters of the Superferry (or, rather, a nameless “system to ferry people and cargo between the islands”) haven’t given up. HB191 would establish a special fund and open the door for the state to buy back the Alakai and Huakai, which the federal Maritime Administration puchased out of bankruptcy.
Will It Pass? A similar bill introduced last year by Maui Rep. Joe Souki sank before it left the harbor. The state’s financial outlook hasn’t improved much since then and neither have the odds of the government bankrolling an expensive and dubious ferry system.
The Bill We’ve been following the efforts of Maui Dance Advocates (MDA) for years, as the small, scrappy group has tried—so far in vain—to get the Maui County Department of Liquor Control to change its vague, arcane dancing rules. After being thwarted by the LC’s rule-making commission and the courts, MDA took its case to the legislature last year. That bill stumbled, but they’re back with two more: SB588 and its House companion, HB1339. Both would require “county liquor commissions to adopt or amend rules regarding conduct of patrons and to define the term ‘dancing.’”
Will It Pass? Both bills passed first reading and were referred to committee. But both could easily be buried by other—arguably more pressing—issues, meaning this is a case where letters and phone calls could truly make a difference. For more info about the bills and MDA, visit mauidanceadvocates.com.
PUBLIC ACCESS: SAFE AT LAST?
The Bill For whatever reason—money, control, spitefulness—powerful players in the public and private sector seem dedicated to stamping out public television in Hawaii (and across the country). Maui’s Akaku has fought off various legal and legislative challenges and now two companion bills—SB583 and HB112—could finally give the station a sense of security. The bills would establish a new state organization to oversee PEG (public, educational, governmental) channels, which up until now have been under the thumb of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
Will It Pass? At a press conference last year, then-candidate Abercrombie—along with a number of other heavyweights including Senate President Shan Tsutsui, who co-introduced SB583—expressed support for Akaku. The station—and PEG programming in general—still have influential enemies. But, for the first time in a while, their friends might be stronger.
To search bills by number or key words, and to stay updated on their progress, go here.