Governor set to OK
same-sex benefits

Cayetano's comments come
despite a business group's urging
that he veto the measure

Star-Bulletin staff

Gov. Ben Cayetano said today he is inclined to support the "reciprocal benefits" bill granting extended medical coverage and other benefits to couples that cannot legally marry.

His comments come despite urging from the Hawaii Business Health Council, comprised of some of the state's largest companies, who want Cayetano to veto the measure because they fear it will be too expensive for business.

Duane Feekin, a Bank of Hawaii executive vice president and president of the group, said a veto would allow time to analyze the possible costs to business and the bill could be brought up again next session.

Cayetano said he sees the bill as a civil rights measure. "Quite frankly, it is an historic step forward," he said. You can't put a dollar figure on basic rights that should be extended to all, he added

If he were to veto the measure, he would not do it because of cost concerns,Cayetano said. And if there are minor technical problems in the bill, they can be corrected during next year's legislative session, he added.

A veto would mean there would be slim chances of a similar measure coming out of the Legislature next year because 1998 is an election year, he said.

Meanwhile, a delegation from the Hawaii Employers Council was to meet on the subject today with Sen. Matt Matsunaga (D-Waialae/Palolo) co-chairman of the conference committee that approved the bill.

Matsunaga said today that the Senate version had required health benefits for same-sex couples who have been residents of Hawaii for a year or more.

The final version that went to the governor has House-version language applying it to "any two people who are legally prohibited from marriage" and there is no residency requirement, Matsunaga said.

Cayetano has until June 23 to decide on the bill. If he doesn't sign or veto it, the bill will become law on July 8.

Aside from a bill to seek a constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to ban same-sex marriages, the "reciprocal beneficiaries" bill was the only same-sex bill to make it through the 1997 legislative session, after stormy debates that lasted until the end of the session. If the bill becomes law, couples will be able to register by filling out an application, including a notarized declaration that they are willingly entering a reciprocal beneficiaries relationship, and paying an $8 fee.

The Business Health Council, whose 30 members include such major local companies as Alexander & Baldwin Inc. and Bank of Hawaii, was formed about 20 years ago to keep a watch on health issues.

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