Gov. Abercrombie Signs Historic Marriage Equity Legislation into Law

Gov. Neil Abercrombie today signed into law a bill that will legalize marriage for same-sex couples in the State of Hawaii. The Governor signed Senate Bill 1 in a ceremony at the Hawaii Convention Center.

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This new law recognizes marriages between individuals of the same sex and extends to same-sex couples the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of marriage that opposite-sex couples receive.

The new law takes effect on Dec. 2, 2013. Hawaii is now the 15th state in the nation to fully embrace marriage equity.

“The legalization of marriage for same-sex couples is part of the long history of civil rights movements in the United States,” said Gov. Abercrombie. “Many people have worked tireless to make this day possible. This significant piece of legislation is a clear example of people exercising courage, determination and patient perseverance. The result advances equity in marriage and honors all First Amendment religious imperatives.”

“We have moved into a new era of Aloha for same-sex couples, who can now share in the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said Attorney General David Louie.

“Although Hawaii was not the first to enact same-sex marriage, what shouldn’t be lost is Hawaii was the first in the Baehr v. Lewin lawsuit, that started the same-sex marriage discussion nationally,” said Sen. Clayton Hee, chair of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor. “I am pleased today to be able to open a new chapter in our state’s history and to join the growing list of states in conferring to all Americans equal treatment under the law.”

Gov. Abercrombie has always been a strong advocate for equal rights. In 2011, the first bill he signed into law as Governor legalized civil unions, making Hawaii the seventh state to grant such privileges to same-sex couples.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples who were married under state law. The court’s decision means that same-sex couples who are married in states where it is legal can take advantage of tax breaks, pension rights and other benefits available to married couples.

 

Governor Abercrombie Calls Special Session on Marriage Equity

Under Section 10 of Article III of the State Constitution, Gov. Neil Abercrombie has called both houses of the state Legislature to convene in a special session on Oct. 28 to address the issue of marriage equity.

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“The decision to call a special session is based on doing what is right to create equity for all in Hawaii,” Gov. Abercrombie said. “As a former legislator, I have great respect for the Legislature and the legislative process. The merits of holding a special session include the opportunity for the Legislature to focus squarely on this important issue, without having to divert attention to the hundreds of other bills introduced during a regular session. In addition, if full advantage of various tax and other financial issues is to be achieved for citizens, passage before the end of the calendar year is essential.”

Abercrombie Proclamation

Since last June’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the IRS and U.S. Treasury Department have ruled that same-sex couples legally married in jurisdictions recognizing their marriages will be treated as married for federal tax purposes. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs announced that gay married couples will be eligible for veteran’s benefits, and the Pentagon announced that married same-sex couples will be eligible for the same health care, housing and separation benefits as married opposite-sex couples.

“My office has received many e-mails, letters and telephone calls from constituents on both sides of the marriage equity issue, and I have responded with assurance that my administration will meet our responsibilities for due diligence in consideration of all views and legal considerations,” the Governor added. During a special session, all constitutional and legal requirements that govern the Legislature must still be met. The House and Senate internal rules are also the same, both of which require a public hearing before any bill is passed.

Last month, the Governor shared with legislators and the news media a marriage equity bill based on Senate Bill 1369, which was introduced in the 2013 regular session. Community input was taken into consideration while the state Attorney General’s office worked closely with elected officials and a number of legislative staff to craft and further refine the bill.

View the latest version of the Marriage Equity Bill here.

How Todays McComish Decision Affects Hawaii’s Publicly Funded Election

The Supreme Court made it’s decision today on the McComish hearings that are related to Arizona Citizens Clean Election Act and it does have a small ramification on how Hawaii’s Pilot project will go on.

From Voter Owned Hawaii:

Background

Hawaii is one of numerous jurisdictions with a “clean elections” or “fair elections” program to provide public funding for election campaigns. Hawaii’s pilot program for publicly-funded elections on the Big Island was first implemented in 2010. –The Hawaii program has a similar structure to Arizona’s and is therefore affected by today’s decision in McComish. The McComish decision only affects the “matching” funds, the second of two parts described below.

1. Base amount of public funding — The base amount is the initial allotment of money a candidate receives once they’ve passed the qualification or vetting process to receive public funds. The amount of money a candidate receives for their base amount depends upon how much the winning candidates (in that specific district) spent over the last two election cycles. This part is not affected by the McComish decision.

2. Matching Funds or Trigger Funds – “Matching” or “trigger” funds is the second way a publicly funded candidate can receive money in their race. In McComish, this is the specific mechanism the Supreme Court ruled against.

Matching funds come into play when a publicly funded candidate is running against a privately funded opponent who has spent more money than the base amount of their publicly funded opponent. Matching funds give the publicly funded candidate a dollar-for-dollar match when the privately funded candidate spends more money than the base amount of the publicly funded candidate. This allows the publicly funded candidate to remain competitive. The publicly funded candidate can receive a maximum of up to two times their base allotment in matching funds.

What this means for Hawaii’s pilot program

The McComish decision affects only one piece of Hawaii’s law, and we should adjust Act 244 accordingly. Voter Owned Hawaii and other organizations supported legislation in the 2011 legislative session (HB1575) that would have preemptively changed the matching funds mechanism (in the expectation of a negative decision from the Supreme Court).

We will continue to work in 2012 to pass legislation to address the decision in McComish.

Why it’s important for Hawaii to continue to lead the way for Fair and Clean Elections and a public funding option.

  • The idea of a public funding option for elections was established during the 1978 Constitutional Convention and has a strong legacy in Hawaii. We need to continue to honor that promise with a public funding option for elections that gives candidates enough money to run a competitive race against privately funded candidates.

  • This narrow decision leaves the foundation for public financing systems intact. The court has only ruled that the trigger fund provision of some public financing systems is unconstitutional—not the foundation of public financing.

  • Campaign systems that use trigger funds can be adapted to comply with today’s ruling with new matching funds systems, like that offered in HB1575.

  • Because of the recent Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, private money flowing into elections has skyrocketed even more. No less than the integrity of our democracy is at stake when it comes to making sure the public’s voice is not drowned out by private money.

  • As the Supreme Court continues its hostility to common sense legislation aimed at raising the voice of everyday people, elected officials must act to ensure our elections are truly of, by, and for the people and not bought and paid for by special interests.

Resources

http://publicampaign.org/mccomishnews

 “ . . . if we think these tremendous sums being spent [on elections], these tremendous sums being contributed, are not sums for which we are going to ultimately pay because of poor government . . . and because of undue influence . . . we are fooling ourselves.”    – Delegate Naomi Campbell during the 1978 Constitutional Convention

Fair Elections Supporters Say “Mahalo”

Media Release:

Citizens and students gathered yesterday in front of the Kamehameha Statue on Kam Avenue to say “mahalo” to the Hawaii County council for supporting Big Island’s new Fair Elections law, a pilot program that provides a full public funding option for county council elections. In the 2010 elections, four out of nine councilors won their election campaigns using the pilot program, also known as Act 244.

Student Rally

2010 Student Rally for Clean Elections

The candidates who received public funds using Act 244 collected 200 signatures from registered voters within the districts in which they were running. Those signatures had to be accompanied by a five dollar check or money order to ensure those signing were serious about their support.

The original partial public funding system was established during the 1978 Constitutional Convention, creating the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund which is paid for by a $3 check of on state income tax forms. The fund is managed by the state’s Campaign Spending Commission.

Currently, the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund has about $4.6 million dollars. It currently funds the statewide partial public funding program, the Big Island pilot, and the Campaign Spending Commission. The Hawaii County pilot is scheduled to expire after the 2014 elections.

Advocates for Fair Elections stood on Kamehameha Avenue to thank the Big Island County council, which originally pushed for Act 244 in 2008, and who they now believe support Fair Elections as a majority.

“I am grateful to the County Council members who pushed for this critically important reform that can restore our democracy.  It is the reform that makes all the other reforms possible,” said Dr. Noelie Rodriguez, a sociology professor at Hilo Community College.

Student Jennifer Ruggles agreed. “Getting private interests out of our public policy is the first step and when officials run on only public money they become accountable solely to the public’s needs,” she said.

Money in politics has been a contentious issue lately since the shocking U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts on independent expenditures, contributions that are not officially associated with a candidate’s political action committee or campaign.

Fair Elections advocates believe a full public funding option for elections is the antidote to the “Citizens United” decision. “Public funding allows candidates to focus on long-term solutions in the public interest instead of short term priorities of special interest campaign donors”, said Keahi Tajon, a student organizer.

The Supreme Court stunned election law experts again when they decided to hear a case challenging one piece of Arizona’s Fair Elections law. The matching funds provision of Arizona’s law provides extra money to qualified publicly funded candidates when they’re outspend by a privately funded competitor.

Since Hawaii’s Big Island pilot program is similar to Arizona’s law, the pending Supreme Court decision is significant. Advocates say they have replacement language to insert into Hawaii’s law if there’s a negative decision by the Supreme Court, however.

“In the event that the Supreme Court rules against the matching funds mechanism, we can replace that one section of the law with new language that is safe from this conservative court”, said Kory Payne, executive director for Voter Owned Hawaii, a non-partisan group that helped push for the Big Island pilot.

“Delegates and voters in the 1978 Constitutional Convention knew that getting private money out of elections was the right thing to do. We owe it to them to update the partial public funding system, and remember how private money in elections can end up costing us all in the end”, added Payne.

Candidate Maile David Defeats Kenoi Administration in Attempt to Remove her from Ballot

Breaking:

..The Third Circuit Court has ruled in favor of Maile David and against the Kenoi’s administration’s attempts to remove her from the ballot.

The court rejected County Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida’s legal argument that Ms. David had to register 90 days before the election.  Ms. David registered to vote 86 days before the election, though she had been a District 6 resident since 2008.