Civil unions bill may get to Senate by Tuesday


POSTED: Friday, March 06, 2009

After meeting in closed-door caucus for more than an hour, Senate Democrats are predicting a bill to permit civil unions for same-sex couples will be brought to the Senate floor by Tuesday.

“;If I were a betting man, I would say we have the votes to pull it out of committee, and I feel there is a sense that people in the Senate want to pass it,”; said one senator, who asked not to be identified.

House Bill 444 has been the most controversial of the legislative session. A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing lasted for 14 hours and received more than 1,400 pieces of testimony.

The state House passed the bill with just 34 supporters. It would give all the rights of married couples to same-sex partners but without saying the couple was married.

The Senate Judiciary Committee vote after the marathon hearing was tied 3-3, so the bill is locked in committee.

According to Senate rules, nine senators can vote to recall the bill from committee and put it on the Senate floor for a vote. That is what is expected on Tuesday.

One senator, who asked not to be named, said that Sen. Gary Hooser said in caucus he wanted a vote on the bill by the entire Senate. While Hooser declined to talk about the caucus actions, he has previously been a strong supporter of the civil union bill, saying it was a matter of equal rights.

Another senator, Will Espero, offered an amendment, which was not supported by the caucus yesterday, but he still hopes to have it discussed Tuesday.

“;The amendment would acknowledge civil unions. However, it would not equate them to marriage, and that could provide a win-win situation,”; Espero (D, Ewa-Honouliuli-Ewa Beach) said.

An amendment could complicate the issue because it would force the bill back to the House and possibly a conference committee. Another senator who asked not to be identified said bluntly that “;an amendment will kill it.”;

Also, Senate Democrats say support for the bill among Democrats has weakened. Unofficial tallies two weeks ago had 18 supporters, but now supporters say they have a bare majority of 13.

If the Senate passed HB 444 without amendments next week, it would go to Gov. Linda Lingle for her signature. If she rejects the bill, it does not appear that supporters have the needed two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a veto.