This year's state legislative session has
reached the half-way mark, with the last handful of bills crossing
between the House and Senate.
Senators wrapped up measures about rural health care, the Hawaii
Superferry and recycling today. The House took action taken
on health benefit rights for those government employees in non-married
One of the last measures to make crossover extends state and
county health benefits to what are called "reciprocal beneficiaries."
That can mean an auntie or grandfather, and same sex partners.
"This is one of the last groups that we have not reached
out and gotten everyone their equal rights," said Rep.
Joe Bertram, (D) Kihei, Maui.
Some see it as another step toward civil unions, though measures
seeking that failed.
"Chicken or ribs. The name doesn't matter,” Bertram
said. “What matters are the rights. And if we can get
that done, in whatever form we can get that done, then it's
Civil union opponents disagree and say reciprocal benefits
are far from redefining marriage.
"In no way is it a stepping stone toward civil
unions," said Sen. Mike Gabbard, (R) Kapolei. “Civil
unions is same-sex marriage with a different name. We had this
debate in this community for 8 years, 8 long years."
Other measures crossing between chambers would restructure
state-run rural hospitals, giving more independence to places
like Maui Memorial Medical Center.
“It's the golden goose for them now,” said Senate
President Colleen Hanabusa, referring to Maui Memorial’s
financial contribution to the statewide network or rural hospitals.
“They are the ones that are making the money for the whole
health system. It's got to be that every area to a certain extent
has got to carry themselves."
Other bills seek to make recycling easier and more popular.
Following a swell in pedestrian fatalities, lawmakers are also
looking at making crosswalks safer. And then, there's what to
do with the state general fund surplus.
"We are looking at doing what we hear a lot of the constituents
asking for, which is go fix the schools, go address these concerns,"
Tax relief by any notable-size rebate isn't topping the list.
"It doesn't look like the Senate is going to -- and we
never did say -- we would give back a lot of money in terms
of the rebate," Hanabusa said.
Hundreds of bills are still under consideration, with more
to be whittled down in weeks to come.