FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Reps. Glen Wakai, left, Lyla Berg, James Tokioka and Faye Hano- hano reviewed bills yesterday.
Political gifts among issues negotiated by lawmakers
Crossover bills include the budget, with the Senate's version being smaller than what Lingle had proposed
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State lawmakers head into the homestretch to work out controversial issues in conference committee negotiations. Among the top measures still alive after an internal deadline yesterday:
» Senate Bill 2828 restricts the use of the governor's emergency powers in response to a natural or man-made disaster.
» House Bill 661 amends Campaign Spending Commission law by increasing the amount corporations can give in aggregate from $1,000 to $25,000 to a political action committee, which could then donate the money to candidates.
» SB 3202 asks voters whether the state Constitution should be amended to raise the mandatory retirement age for state justices and judges by 10 years to 80. It would apply only to judges installed after the law takes effect.
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A new version of the state budget, $32.4 million smaller than the one proposed by Gov. Linda Lingle, was passed by the Senate yesterday.
The budget was among the dozens of bills passed by the House and Senate as lawmakers approach an internal "crossover" deadline.
In the Senate yesterday, two of four Republicans, Sens. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) and Gordon Trimble (R, Downtown-Waikiki) voted against the budget, saying that even after the cuts, the $10.7 billion budget was too expensive.
"This is an increase at a time when individuals and families have had to cut back," Slom said in a Senate speech.
Sen. Rosalyn Baker, Ways and Means Committee chairwoman, said three reductions in estimated tax collections have taken $847 million from available spending.
"The truth is inflation has eaten most of the growth and emergency requests from the governor to cover increased costs of energy, food and health care reflect that," said Baker (D, Honokohau-Makena).
The final budget will be worked out in conference.
Also in the Senate, bipartisan opposition failed to stop a move to allow corporations to give $25,000 in total to candidates.
Some candidates have been worried because the Campaign Spending Commission said each corporation could not contribute more than $1,000 in an election. But a Maui Circuit Court judge struck down that limit last year, and the commission is appealing the ruling.
Sen. Les Ihara, Democratic policy leader, spoke against the bill, saying it would lead to conflicts of interest. "This is like a judge in a contest soliciting contributions from contestants during the competition," said Ihara (D, Kaimuki-Palolo).
The Senate yesterday passed House Bill 661, to include larger corporate donations, on a voice vote and is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow.
The House killed a proposed five-year moratorium on genetically modifying Hawaiian taro in the state.
A similar proposal contained in Senate Bill 958 died in committee last year but was brought back this session after vocal demonstrations by activists who consider taro to be an ancestor of the Hawaiian people.
The most spirited debate was focused on an ethics proposal that some opponents characterized as political payback.
Senate Bill 945 would ban nepotism, among other provisions. Some lawmakers objected to a section that was added late in the process by the Judiciary Committee to prohibit state agencies from entering into contracts valued at $10,000 or more per year with legislators.
Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kaneohe-Kailua) ticked off a list of more than a half-dozen lawmakers who have state jobs or contracts, including lawyers, social workers, doctors and nurses.
She described it as a "punitive bill" aimed at Rep. Josh Green, chairman of the Health Committee and a doctor in a state hospital, who has waged a very public fight with Judiciary Chairman Tommy Waters over medical malpractice and tort reform.
Green said he also felt the measure was "political retribution."
"There's so many things we can do that would augment ethics laws," said Green (D, Keauhou-Honokohau). "All this does is actually prevent us from actually taking care of the people or working for the people."
Waters (D, Lanikai-Waimanalo), an attorney and former public defender, said the measure is needed to address conflicts of interest.
"I'm not saying you can't practice medicine or you can't practice law, you just can't get two state paychecks," Waters said.
LEGISLATION SLATED FOR DISCUSSION
Various bills facing possible negotiations between House and Senate conferees:
» Senate Bill 2218: requires electronic monitoring of persons convicted of violating a domestic abuse temporary restraining order or protective order.
» SB 2263: requires the University of Hawaii Board of Regents to publicly disclose salaries of all newly hired employees, changes in salary offered to existing employees for administrative positions in the UH system filled by excluded employees and all budgetary expenditures made by the board.
» House Bill 2500: cuts $32.9 million from the budget proposed by Gov. Linda Lingle.
» HB 509: creates an interisland airlines loan guarantee trust fund to assist airlines flying between the Hawaiian Islands. No amount for the loan was specified.
» HB 1978: extends for three years the prohibition against urinating or defecating in public in downtown Honolulu.
» HB 3002: creates new offense of habitual solicitation of a prostitute and makes it a Class C felony if a person is convicted three times for soliciting a prostitute.