March 9, 2009

With a bang or a whimper?

Filed under: Hawaii State Politics — Doug @ 7:41 pm

Others (such as Lance Collins via Disappeared News and kolea via his comments at The Notebook) have already done a fine job describing the ins and outs of how it is that the Civil Unions bill remains in the Senate Judiciary Committee after the chair’s recommendation to pass the bill was met with a tie vote and, thus, failed to carry. I concur that the ersatz “mandatory waiting period” said to expire on March 10 really never had to be honored by the Senate, but that is water under the bridge.

At this point the questions become simple: a) will a Senator move tomorrow to recall the bill from the committee for consideration by the full Senate? b) will that motion get a second? and, if so, c) will the motion carry?

Friday saw articles (Advertiser and Star-Bulletin) that indicated that Senate Democrats, depending upon which unnamed source you believe, have (or don’t have) the courage to recall the bill and to pass it.

While senators may have reservations in private, a vote on the Senate floor would put them on the spot publicly, and a majority have told gay activists they support civil unions.

[DOUG: Did you catch that? The implication being that some Senators with private reservations (i.e. in caucus) have told supporters of the bill a different story. Shocking, I know.]

State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), said she would like Senate Democrats to come to a consensus. She said earlier reports that the Senate had the votes to pull the bill from committee and to pass it on the floor were accurate at the time. But she said some senators are now looking at other factors, including the importance of maintaining the committee process.


[Senator] Espero, offered an amendment, which was not supported by the caucus [Thursday], 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.

An amendment will kill it. Especially an amendment “crafted” by Espero, a Senator who is not even half as politically shrewd as he may think himself to be…

As for Senate President Hanabusa’s hope for a “consensus” on the issue: balderdash. Senator Gabbard will never support the bill, so there will never be a consensus. A minority of the caucus is allowed to stop the whole legislative process? Strange leadership decision, that.

If Senators who support this bill were to come this far and not even attempt to recall the bill, then that would speak volumes about the depth of their support for civil rights. Besides, it is not as if the committee process is being hijacked. There would be no “majority vote” in the Judiciary committee overridden, that vote was 3-3. If Senator Hanabusa had assigned an odd number of committee members, then a recall would not have been necessary. I can’t see any non-nefarious reason for a key committee to have an even number of members assigned, so Hanabusa deserves to have that decision blow up her in face, and often.

So, are the Senators who support civil unions going to remain silent and attempt to hide behind that “respect for Senate process” fig leaf, or will two Senators move to recall the bill, even if it means forcing their colleagues to go on record.

Heck, it’s even possible that an opponent of the bill (or an opponent of Senate leadership, or of both) who wants to force the issue could move (or second) the recall motion. Wouldn’t that make the civil unions supporters look even more timid! Whatever, so long as it comes to a vote, I’m down.


  1. If I were a betting person, I would say it will not be brought to the floor for a vote.

    Comment by charles — March 9, 2009 @ 9:10 pm

  2. One thing I have thought was totally absurd about legislative procedure in Hawai’i is the requirement in a house of the state legislature for a second. Everywhere else in the universe where parliamentary law is practiced, representative legislators never need a second to bring a matter for deliberation and decision before the body because of the idea that each district has an entitlement to bring an issue to the body without the concurrence of about district — equality of the members. Yet another way anti-democratic rules and customs appear to thwart democracy in the legislature.

    Comment by line of flight — March 9, 2009 @ 9:27 pm

  3. Pardon my ignorance, but why are there even-numbered members of *any* committee? Quick look at the lists show a third to a half are that way.

    Comment by Steve — March 9, 2009 @ 9:47 pm

  4. Come on, Senators!!!

    They have waited LONG ENOUGH!!!

    Have COURAGE!!



    Comment by hipoli — March 9, 2009 @ 10:05 pm

  5. The whole thing is fascinating as a three-dimensional, multi-player game of chess. At this point, Gabbard, assisted by the still-bitter ex-Senate President Bobby Bunda, has outmaneuvered Senator Hanabusa and Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser. By sponsoring Gabbard’s switch to the Democratic Party, then appointing him to the very important, six member Senate Judiciary Committee, she has effectively given him veto power over equal rights for gays and lesbians for the next two years.

    But the game is not over yet. It may turn out Hanabusa is the crafty legislative tactician insiders claim she is. It her public role is seen as proceeding cautiously, with an emphasis on trying to attain consensus while (finally) respecting the will of the majority of the senators and letting the bill pass, she may come out of this OK.

    As someone who has received personal pledges from Senators they will vote for the bill IF it reaches the floor, I believe it WILL pass IF that vote is ever held. And as someone who has tried to consider the impact a pro-civil unions vote might have in each specific district, I think “only” a handful of senators might be vulnerable if the bill does pass. Those senators who may be vulnerable are grownups, capable of deciding for themselves which way to vote. In the core group of the CU advocates are many who understand some senators may feel the need to vote “no” even if they are supportive. Frankly, it is the job of the Senate President (or Speaker of the House) to make sure good legislation gets passed while providing cover for members who may need to vote otherwise for reasons of the dynamics of their district. Skilled leaders can do this, if they want. Hanabusa is very skilled.

    Hanabusa’s apparent reversal, from public comments in favor of pulling the bill to public comments against pulling the bill, has left Gary Hooser dangling in the wind. Was that deliberate, or is he just “expendable” in her calculus? Why hurting Hooser and empowering Gabbard would be acceptable to Hanabusa is beyond my comprehension.

    At present, Hanabusa appears to be the main person responsible for stalling the bill. Should that result in the death of the bill, I do not think it is in her interests that her fingerprints be found on the corpse. She may not want her public image to be “too liberal” in the mind of voters, but nor can she afford to alienate the liberal wing of the electorate, as she surely will unless she does something to alter the current perception that she is working to kill the bill.

    BTW- it is not clear if she has decided to run for Governor, jump into the First CD race against Ed Case(?), or remain (for now) as Senate President. Especially if she were to run for Neil’s seat, she would be hurt if she were viewed as unfriendly to civil rights for gays and lesbians.

    As always with the legislative game, the behind the scenes machinations and counter-machinations, communications and mis-communications are more complicated than can be explained by one observer. Hanabusa MAY surprise all of us and end up “threading the needle” on this issue.

    But time appears to be running out.

    Comment by Kolea — March 11, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

  6. The following language from the conclusion of the opinion should be a reminder to those who still oppose civil unions, indeed, same sex marriage itself:

    “That our Constitution prohibits laws which provide disparate treatment intended to favor a specific individual, class, or entity or to discriminate against a specific individual, class, or entity is a fundamental principle of the democratic nature of our government: equal rights and equal treatment for all persons under the law.”

    Just do the right thing.

    Comment by Ted — March 17, 2009 @ 1:23 pm

  7. Okay, that’s why I’m not a betting person. :)

    Looks like there will be a motion to bring it to the floor but it doesn’t look like nine senators will agree; hence, the motion will fail.

    Comment by charles — March 24, 2009 @ 5:32 pm

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