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Legislature Clears Half-Way Mark

KHON 2
March 8, 2007

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 relationships.

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 good."

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," Hanabusa said.

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.

  Mike Gabbard - State Senate| P.O. Box 75480 Kapolei, Hawaii 96707
Phone: (808) 682-0676 | Fax:(808) 682-2591 | E-mail: mike@mikegabbard.com
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