Concerned About Potential Violence, Senators Prepare for Conflict, Controversy at Civil Unions Hearing

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With passionate supporters and opponents of the proposed civil union measure expected to show up in force Tuesday at the Hawaii State Capitol for the 10 a.m. hearing of SB232, Sen. Clayton Hee, D-Kahaluu, is preparing for the worst.

The chair of the Hawaii State Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor has asked the Senate president for security at the hearing and the option for each of the Senators on the committee to wear a Kevlar jacket for additional protection.


Hee, in a memo to fellow senators, says violence has become too common an occurrence in the political forums and public hearings at the state capitol.

He did not cite examples in Hawaii, however he points to the recent shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona and several other people in the crowd with her by a lone gunman who targeted her.

Another member of Hee’s committee, Sen. Mike Gabbard, D-Waianae, a vocal opponent of same sex marriage and civil unions, was punched in the chest last year by a proponent. The assault led Gabbard to successfully obtain a 3-year restraining order against his attacker.

So far the committee has received 300 testimonies both for and against the legislation that would grant unmarried couples more privileges and benefits.

The measure is expected to pass the 5-member committee by 1 vote, and easily pass the full 25-member Senate. The bill, or possibly an amended version, should pass the House with little opposition. Gov. Neil Abercrombie already has been vocal about his support for such legislation, so supporters believe it should be enacted into law this year.

The last time the Senate Judiciary committee held a hearing on the bill was two years ago. And the hearing in the capitol auditorium lasted more than 18 hours – the longest single public hearing on any subject in the legislature since statehood.

The 6 members of the committee deadlocked 3 to 3, essentially killing the measure.

HB 444 passed the House and Senate last year, but after extensive consideration, Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the measure.