HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The "Hawai'i Marriage Equality Act of 2013" bill was officially filed Tuesday. Senate officials confirm they will introduce the bill next week Monday, October 28 at the start of the same-sex marriage special session.
Senator Clayton Hee says the first public hearing is scheduled before the Judiciary and Labor committee, which he chairs, on Monday, October 28 at 10:30 a.m. in the State Capitol auditorium
Hee says testimony will be limited to 2 minutes a person, in an effort to accommodate everyone who wishes to address lawmakers.
Hee says in drafting the latest version of the bill, the Senate took into account the concerns expressed by the religious community and gay advocates and tried to "strike a balance between the two competing interests" while also trying to "preserve the protected classes of people under the Constitution". According to Hee, it was also a priority to "clarify the circumstances upon which the exemptions would be allowed".
Hee describes the bill as the "result of the public weighing in and our ongoing discussions with the Attorney General and House leadership".
"We are not working on this bill in a vacuum," Hee said.
If the Senate doesn't propose any amendments, which Hee confirms Senators will have the opportunity to, then the first House reading of the bill is expected on Thursday, October 31.
House Majority leader Scott Saiki says it will go through two committees, Judiciary and Finance – a decision he says is unprecedented.
"Those two committees combined represent over one half of the membership of the House, so in other words – more than one half of the House will be sitting on the committee that is hearing that bill," Representative Saiki explained.
House leaders say another uncommon step they've taken is to extend the special session length past the 5 day minimum, but Representative Bob McDermott says it's not enough.
"Seven days? We spend more time deliberating a bus route change then we're going to spend on this," Rep. McDermott said.
The House Minority member says he will vote no on the same-sex marriage legislation and plans to introduce a bill of his own to put the issue to a public vote.
"This is a major societal change. Mothers, fathers, truck drivers, clerks at Long's – those folks should be able to make that decision at the ballot box via a Constitutional amendment. And then if we fail to convince them, I can live with that – but let the people decide," McDermott explained.
House Speaker Joseph Souki says he doesn't think the proposal stands a chance.
"22 members in the Senate favor same-sex marriage and so I don't think they're going to change to allow for two-thirds of the Senate to vote for a Constitutional amendment," Rep. Souki said.
But Souki says he does think the House has the minimum 26 votes it needs to pass same-sex marriage.
"Maybe 29 to 30 for," Souki described.
The public will have another chance to testify on Thursday, October 31 at a joint House hearing in the State Capitol auditorium. An exact time has yet to be announced.
"Based on my personal experience, I can't think of an issue where we have spent more time on than this issue over the past few months, actually since the last session – for the past year. We really have spent a lot of time on this issue and we know what the issues are with the public. We know what the concerns are. We are working to address those concerns, and we're going to let the discussion play out during the special session," explained Rep. Saiki.
If Representatives make any amendments to the bill, the earliest the Senate will likely vote on it is Wednesday, November 6.
All the public hearing dates and times are subject to change. Lawmakers recommend anyone interested in testifying check online for the most updated information throughout the special session at: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/splsession.aspx?year=2013b, which is also where you can download and read the SB 1, the "Hawai'i Marriage Equality Act of 2013".