Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved the planned acquisition of Hawaiian Electric Industries by Florida based-NextEra Energy, according to a joint press released issued by the two companies on Monday.

NextEra announced in December that it was planning to purchase Hawaii’s major electric utility as part of a $4.3 billion deal.

The purchase includes Hawaiian Electric Co. on Oahu, Hawaii Electric Light Co. on the Big Island and Maui Electric Co., which serves Maui, Lanai and Molokai.

As part of the deal, American Savings Bank, a subsidiary of Hawaiian Electric Industries, will be spun off into an independent company.

Jim Robo, chairman and CEO of NextEra Energy, stands beside Connie Lau, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Industries, at a press conference announcing the $4.3 billion merger.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The purchase still has to be approved by Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission and HEI shareholders. The PUC has indicated that it may not rule on the deal until the middle of next year. Meanwhile, more than two dozen entities, including solar trade groups, county and state agencies and other energy companies have intervened in the quasi-judicial proceedings taking place before the PUC.

“Approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission represents a significant step toward the completion of our merger,” Jim Robo, chairman and chief executive officer of NextEra Energy, said in a statement. “Through our partnership, we will apply our combined expertise and resources to deliver significant savings and value to Hawaiian Electric customers. We will continue to work closely with our

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  • Hawaii Senate to Post Résumés of Nominees on Website

    ·By Chad Blair
    The president of the Hawaii Senate has instructed all senators and staff that the chamber has revised its policy regarding the confidentially of the résumés of gubernatorial nominees. In a letter dated Wednesday, Donna Mercado Kim said the policy was being changed “to provide important information to the public about nominees to state boards and commissions.” The résumés from the governor’s office had been kept confidential for internal use. Senate President Donna Mercado Kim checking her phone on the Senate floor. Cory Lum/Civil Beat Kim said that, after conferring with Gov. David Ige, the Senate Clerk’s office will post the information on the Legislature’s website “as soon as possible” after appointment letters to the Senate are received from the governor’s office. Any questionnaire by Senate committees, which offer advise and consent, to nominees “and any other documents” submitted by the governor’s office along with the nomination letter will remain confidential unless the nominee submits them as testimony. Hawaii’s governor appoints and nominates to more than 170 boards and commissions, including the Campaign Spending Commission, the Hawaiian Homes Commission and the Board of Land and Natural Resources. The new policy applies to all appointments received as of Tuesday. Kim’s letter says Ige’s office has begun advising nominees of the new policy so that “personal information not intended to be shared publicly” remains that way.
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  • Robbie Alm: ‘Father of Hawaii’s Public Records Law’

    ·By Patti Epler
    Local blogger, investigative reporter and Civil Beat columnist Ian Lind has a good reminder in his blog today that it’s important to look beyond the current political sentiment when judging people. Lind recounts the very important role Robbie Alm played in developing Hawaii’s public records law, the Uniform Information Practices Act. It turns out Alm, who is probably better known for his longtime role as a top executive at Hawaiian Electric Co., was the director of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs in 1988 when then-Gov. John Waihee created the UIPA after a blue-ribbon commission put forth a comprehensive proposal. Lind was a member of that commission and has remained a staunch supporter of open records and government transparency himself. Alm has been in the news lately in his role as a top advisor to Gov. David Ige. His support of Castle & Cooke lobbyist Carleton Ching to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources didn’t go over so well with a lot of people. But read Lind’s blog post today and you’ll likely have a more charitable view of Alm. Full disclosure: Alm also is the president of Collaborative Leaders Network, which is funded by Omidyar Group. Pierre Omidyar is the publisher and CEO of Civil Beat. Robbie Alm gives a TEDx talk on collaborative problem solving. Collaborative Leaders Network  
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    ·By Nick Grube
    Officials are looking at a tag-team effort to audit Honolulu’s $6 billion rail project, which has come under intense scrutiny of late for being over budget and in desperate need of cash. On Tuesday, Honolulu City Council Chairman Ernie Martin called for the probe in a resolution that piggybacks on a similar request for more oversight from the Legislature. Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin wants a full audit of the rail project. Martin’s resolution says that should both measures pass, the city and state auditors should “act synergistically to maximize resources, findings and recommendations.” Resolution 15-90 instructs the auditors delve into the project and its finances at a level that has yet to been seen. This includes an investigation into contracts, spending, cost increases and when exactly the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation learned of a pending shortfall. The resolution notes city and state lawmakers’ “continuing frustration over the lack of detailed financial information, definitive construction costs, and solid financial plans.” It also states that an audit could “provide accountability and public transparency, particularly at a time when public and government discussion, deliberation, and decision-making are focused on the soundness and continued viability of the project and its impact upon the residents of Honolulu.” The Legislature is being pressured by the city and HART to pass an extension of a 0.5 percent General Excise Tax surcharge this session to help pay for rail. You can read the full resolution here: Resolution 15-90 from Civil Beat
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    ·By Chad Blair
    In a first, the state Elections Commission will hold a videoconference meeting next week. The meeting, at Kakuhihewa State Office Building in Kapolei, is set for April 7 at 10 a.m. and will be broadcast via videoconference on Hawaii, Maui and Kauai.   The videoconference sites on the neighbor islands will be open for the public to attend, and to submit public testimony.  A special election in Puna. PF Bentley/Civil Beat Some Neighbor Island folks have long complained that it’s sometimes difficult to reach government officials in Honolulu. Here are the viewing locations: County of Hawaii, Hilo State Office Building, 75 Aupuni Street, Basement County of Maui, Wailuku State Office Building, 54 South High Street, 3rd Floor County of Kauai, Lihue State Office Building, 3060 Eiwa Street, Basement Click here for the meeting agenda, which includes discussion of elections-related bills at the Hawaii Legislature and the evaluation of the chief elections officer. Of note: The agenda says the commission meeting will continue “even if video conference connection is lost.”
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    ·By Chad Blair
    The Hawaii Tribune-Herald has this item regarding psychologists and prescriptions. Excerpt: Supporters of a bill to allow psychologists to prescribe medications in Hawaii gathered Tuesday at the state capitol to plead with lawmakers to hear the measure. House Bill 1072 is an attempt to address the severe shortage of psychiatric health care in Hawaii, specifically in rural areas such as Hawaii Island, said Dr. Judi Steinman, program coordinator of the Master of Science in Clinical Psychopharmacology program at University of Hawaii at Hilo’s College of Pharmacy. “We just don’t have enough providers,” she said Tuesday. On Hawaii Island, 23 psychiatrists are needed to serve the population, according to a January report from the Hawaii Physician Workforce Assessment Project. But only 14 currently are available, representing a shortage of 39 percent. … Sen. Josh Green, at right. Nick Grube/Civil Beat The Tribune-Herald cites a 2014 study by Mental Health America that found Hawaii “ranked last in the nation when it came to the percentage of adults with any mental illness who had received treatment.” Opponents say psychologists aren’t trained to “make the right decisions” when it comes to prescribing drugs. State Sen. Josh Green, a Kona medical emergency doctor, has declined to hear HB 1072.
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  • It’s April! It’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month!

    ·By Chad Blair
    The Hawaii Department of Transportation, county police departments, Toyota Hawaii and others are stressing the dangers of distracted driving. On Tuesday, they held a press availability at the Hawaii State Capitol to remind folks that April is  National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. “Distracted driving is a real problem on our roadways,” DOT Director Ford Fuchigami said in a statement. “Too many people think it’s okay to text, talk on the phone or play with their mobile devices while driving, but doing so may lead to real consequences and unnecessary tragedies. Unlike the simulator, you can’t just hit the reset button in real life.” HPD Chief of Police Louis Kealoha addresses the dangers of Distracted Driving and the penalties for violations at the Capitol Tuesday. Hawaii DOT To mark the occasion, DOT unveiled a “new state-of-the-art” simulator that allows drivers to go through various scenarios and experience “the consequences of distracted driving, including crashing into objects, other vehicles and pedestrians.” The simulator will be used in school presentations and safety fairs throughout the year, says the DOT. In 2013, it’s estimated that more than 3,100 people were killed and more than 400,000 injured nationwide in car crashes involving distracted drivers.   Sen. Clarence Nishihara takes a distracted driving simulation test at the Capitol. Hawaii DOT Hawaii’s law bans the use of hand-held mobile electronic devices — cell phones, mp3 players, personal digital assistants, navigation devices and tablets — while operating a vehicle. Drivers under the age
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  • Bill Would Allow Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma to Seek Special Care

    ·By Chad Blair
    U.S. Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) last week reintroduced legislation designed to allow survivors of military sexual trauma to seek specialized care outside of the Veterans Administration health care system. Co-sponsors of H.R. 1603, the Military Sexual Assault Victims Empowerment (SAVE) Act, includes Democrat Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. “The tens of thousands of military sexual assault survivors in the military must receive proper mental and physical care after experiencing such horrible trauma,” Gabbard said in a press release. “Stepping forward and seeking care is a battle all its own. Those who speak up must have their safety ensured and greater control over their own health decisions.” Veterans Day at Punchbowl Memorial. Gabbard added, “Sexual assault survivors have unique needs; they shouldn’t be forced to share personal and highly emotional experiences with a doctor who is not best-equipped to treat them.” Gabbard is a captain in the Hawaii National Guard who served two tours in the Middle East. Barr is the son of an Army veteran and the grandson of a World War II-era veteran. Said Barr, “We owe members of the military the best medical treatment available, and victims of sexual assault in the military certainly deserve the compassion, flexibility, and discretion to make their own decisions about the best course of care for their unique needs.” Click here for more information on the bill.
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  • Honolulu Traffic Third Most Congested Nationally

    ·By Chad Blair
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  • Mauna Kea Protesters Block Telescope Construction

    ·By Chad Blair
    The Hawaii Tribune-Herald has this item about more protests on Mauna Kea. Excerpt: Construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope ground to a halt Monday as more than 50 protesters formed a roadblock outside the Mauna Kea visitor center. Calling the $1.4 billion project a desecration of the mountain, the activists marched back and forth across the Mauna Kea Access Road, making sure to stay within the crosswalk. About 15 vehicles transporting workers up the mountain were blocked as a result, though the protesters allowed visitors and other telescope operators through. The mood at the protest was upbeat, with contemporary and traditional Hawaiian songs filling the mountain air. More than a dozen police officers looked on but took no action against the demonstration. … The mostly Native Hawaiian protesters, the Tribune-Herald reports, said their message was “about aloha and not anger toward the workers.” Mauna Kea. University of Hawaii
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  • Five Reported Dead as Typhoon Hits Islands in Micronesia

    ·By Chad Blair
    The Associated Press reports that Typhoon Maysak has killed five people in Chuuk state in the Federated States of Micronesia. Damage is said to be widespread in Chuuk, which has a population of about 50,000 living on dozens of remote islands. Many Chuuk residents have migrated to Hawaii for health, education and work opportunities. Weno is the main island in Chuuk. Chad Blair/Civil Beat Maysak is now reported to be threatening the neighboring island of Yap, where about 11,000 people live. The typhoon was forecast to hit the Philippines on Sunday or Monday. The Federated States of Micronesia, also known as the FSM, is about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. Pohnpei and Kosrae are the other large states in the FSM, which has hundreds of islands and a population of about 100,000.
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  • Feds Give OK to NextEra Purchase of Hawaiian Electric

    ·By Sophie Cocke
    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved the planned acquisition of Hawaiian Electric Industries by Florida based-NextEra Energy, according to a joint press released issued by the two companies on Monday. NextEra announced in December that it was planning to purchase Hawaii’s major electric utility as part of a $4.3 billion deal. The purchase includes Hawaiian Electric Co. on Oahu, Hawaii Electric Light Co. on the Big Island and Maui Electric Co., which serves Maui, Lanai and Molokai. As part of the deal, American Savings Bank, a subsidiary of Hawaiian Electric Industries, will be spun off into an independent company. Jim Robo, chairman and CEO of NextEra Energy, stands beside Connie Lau, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Industries, at a press conference announcing the $4.3 billion merger. Cory Lum/Civil Beat The purchase still has to be approved by Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission and HEI shareholders. The PUC has indicated that it may not rule on the deal until the middle of next year. Meanwhile, more than two dozen entities, including solar trade groups, county and state agencies and other energy companies have intervened in the quasi-judicial proceedings taking place before the PUC. “Approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission represents a significant step toward the completion of our merger,” Jim Robo, chairman and chief executive officer of NextEra Energy, said in a statement. “Through our partnership, we will apply our combined expertise and resources to deliver significant savings and value to Hawaiian Electric customers. We will continue to work closely with our
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  • Duckworth Could Be Senate’s 2nd Female Combat Vet

    ·By Chad Blair
    As expected, Tammy Duckworth is running for the U.S. Senate. According to The Hill, Duckworth, a Democratic congresswoman, says she’s running “because it’s time for Washington to be held accountable and to put Illinois families and communities first.” Duckworth is a disabled Iraq War veteran. As Bloomberg reports, if she can unseat Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, Duckworth will become the second female combat veteran elected to that chamber. U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth at a campaign event for state Rep. Mark Takai in 2014. Chad Blair/Civil Beat The first is Joni Ernst, a Republican who won in Iowa last year. “Ernst and Duckworth’s entrance into the spotlight comes as the overall number of veterans in Congress is on the decline, but as veterans of the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — women and men — find roles in Washington,” says Bloomberg. In 2012, Duckworth and Tulsi Gabbard, the Democrat from Hawaii, became the first female combat veterans elected to the House, according to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics. Duckworth is a graduate of McKinley High School on Oahu and served in the student government with Mark Takai at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Takai was elected to Congress in November.
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  • Lawmakers to Hold Community Town Hall Meeting on Rail

    ·By Chad Blair
    A community town hall meeting to discuss the rail project is scheduled for Monday, March 30, at 5:30 p.m. at Washington Middle School 1633 S King St. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Honolulu Authority for RapidTransit (HART) officials are expected to be in attendance. The meeting is being held by state Sens. Brickwood Galuteria and Les Ihara, state Reps. Scott Saiki, Della Au Belatti and Scott Nishimoto; and Honolulu Council member Ann Kobayashi. Mayor Kirk Caldwell at the Legislature on March 19. Cory Lum/Civil Beat Should be some fireworks generated at the meeting, no? The rail project has been in the news a lot lately, especially regarding efforts to extend Oahu’s general excise tax to help pay for the $6 billion project. I should clarify: $6 billion and growing. Read Civil Beat’s related editorial, Honolulu Rail: Big Questions Demand a Legislative Special Session.
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  • Takai on Junket to Asia With Pelosi, Other Reps

    ·By Chad Blair
    Mark Takai  the  Democrat representing Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, is participating in a congressional delegation trip to Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), South Korea and Japan. According to Takai’s office, the delegation arrived in Cambodia on Saturday. “This trip through Asia will be focused on critical issues to the U.S. such as trade, human rights, and security concerns,” according to a press release. Here’s a quote from Takai:  “We are at a critical juncture for U.S.–Asia relations and this trip will provide us an opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with leaders from across Asia as to how we can greater increase cooperation. “With Hawaii’s economy tied in closely with Asia’s, I am particularly interested in the impacts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that is currently being negotiated. …” The trip is billed as a “bipartisan” outing, but only one Republican is joining Takai, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and seven other Democrats. Tokyo. Flickr: Luke Ma
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  • Bill to Help Cops Develop Body-Worn Camera Programs

    ·By Chad Blair
    Several members of Congress think body cameras on police will help both cops and the people they are sworn to protect. U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) last week introduced the Police Creating Accountability by Making Effective Recording Available (Police CAMERA) Act of 2015. Body-worn cameras for police. Flickr: West Midlands Police The legislation would create a pilot grant program to help state and local law enforcement agencies develop “safe and effective” body-worn camera programs “that also protect civilians’ privacy rights,” according to Schatz’s office. “The relationship between our communities and the men and women who protect them is based on trust and accountability,” Schatz said in a statement. “In communities like Ferguson, we have seen that public trust eroded by reports of racism and use of excessive force by police. Body-worn police cameras are already being used by some police departments and have shown to be effective in keeping our communities safe.” In places like Ferguson, public trust in police has eroded. Today I intro’d a bill w @SenRandPaul to expand the use of police body cameras. — Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) March 26, 2015 Schatz’s office says that supporters of the Police CAMERA Act of 2015 include the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. It also has local support. “It is my hope that the
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  • C-SPAN Mixes Up Hawaii Politicians

    ·By Chad Blair
    Roll Call’s gossip blog has this item on an unfortunate, if somewhat humorous, recent broadcast on C-SPAN. Excerpt: Mind you, us print folks have already copped to occasionally being stumped by which older white man in a suit is popping off at the mouth. But our counterparts over at C-SPAN appear to be having real trouble differentiating among Asian-American lawmakers. The comedy of errors commenced as soon as Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., stepped up to the mics. Sorry, guys, but the fact that the chair ceded the floor to the gentleman from California should have tipped you off that that couldn’t be Rep. Mark Takai, D-Hawaii, taking the GOP to task about climate change. Some 13 hours later, it was time to cast Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, in a terribly awkward light. Yep, in the ultimate #ThrowbackThursday, Team C-SPAN resurrected the nameplate for the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii and briefly attached it to the sitting solon. It’s not the first time that the “Heard on the Hill” blog has reported on the mistaken identification of Asian-American pols. Read Is That Mark Takai? Or Mark Takano? Or Ted Lieu? To know exactly who is whom in the new Congress, get a copy of Roll Call’s handy guide.
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  • Kenoi Used County Credit Card at Hostess Bar

    ·By Chad Blair
    The Hawaii Tribune-Herald has this item about Hawaii County Mayor Bill Kenoi and misuse of a government credit card. Excerpt: Despite strict rules against using county-issued credit cards for personal purposes, and a prohibition against purchasing alcohol with them, Mayor Billy Kenoi charged $892 on his county card at a Honolulu hostess bar one December day in 2013. Kenoi said Friday he reimbursed the county for the expense on his purchasing card, or pCard, in March 2014. Finance Director Deanna Sako confirmed the mayor did. “Any error in judgment in the use of my card is entirely my own,” Kenoi said. “I take full responsibility for the purchases on my card. … Certainly, I could have exercised better judgment.” Kenoi said he’s used the county card for personal purchases on other occasions, but he always reimbursed the county. It’s not known how often this occurs because repeated attempts by West Hawaii Today to get copies of the credit card statements have been turned back by the county. … The bar, Club Evergreen, “is one of several Korean hostess bars in downtown Honolulu, where patrons buy drinks for themselves and for hostesses who sit and enjoy them with the customers,” according to the Tribune-Herald. Hawaii Mayor Billy Kenoi at the Legislature in January 2015. Cory Lum/Civil Beat
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  • Nozoe Leaving Hawaii DOE for Post at Federal Level

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    Hawaii’s chief academic officer is leaving the state Department of Education next month for a job in Washington, D.C. Ronn Nozoe, Hawaii DOE deputy superintendent since 2010, has been appointed to serve as deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. DOE, school officials announced Friday. Hawaii DOE Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe, pictured here in March 2014 at an educational talk at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, has accepted a job with the U.S. DOE. Eugene Tanner/U.S. DOE“His experience as a teacher, principal, superintendent and state leader make him well qualified to help the U.S. Department of Education’s effort to partner with states and local districts to help ensure all students are successful,” Deborah Delisle, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said in a release. State DOE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi and U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono also praised Nozoe for the work he’s done in Hawaii and his potential at the federal level. “Ronn has been a great asset in our state and served our students and educators well,” Hirono said. “I know he’ll be a wonderful leader in the U.S. Department of Education, implementing policies that will help students be successful nationwide.” Nozoe’s last day in his current job is April 24. The DOE has started an internal recruitment process to fill the position. “At the heart of any real change and improvement are deeply committed and selfless people who are willing to put the cause — in our case, kids — before their individual
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  • Why Can’t We Watch HART Meetings on TV?

    ·By Nick Grube
    Officials at the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation like to tout transparency, but City Councilman Trevor Ozawa thinks they can do more. This week Ozawa introduced a resolution to encourage HART to televise its public meetings through Olelo Community Media or other public access channels. The meetings could also be streamed online. Honolulu City Council Trevor Ozawa wants HART to be more transparent. Cory Lum/Civil Beat He wants those meetings on air so that citizens can track decisions being made on the city’s $6 billion rail project, which is underfunded and over-budget. As Resolution 15-80 states: “… the City Council finds that the size, expense and importance of the Honolulu Rail Transit project merits the televising of HART Board and committee meetings so that government transparency can be achieved and public trust in the project can be gained by informing Honolulu residents of the issues, discussions and plans surrounding the project …” Adding to the significance is the fact that Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and HART officials, including Executive Director and CEO Dan Grabauskas, are doing their best to lobby state lawmakers to extend a half-percent surcharge on the general excise tax to pay for rail. Right now the tax is expected to expire in 2022. But Caldwell and Grabauskas are pushing for an extension of at least 25 years.
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  • US Senate Passes GOP Budget Along Party Lines

    ·By Chad Blair
    The U.S. Senate approved a Republican budget resolution just after 3 a.m. Friday morning in a 52-46 vote, “capping a grueling day of floor work that required lawmakers to take sides on dozens of amendments,” as The Hill reports. “Only two Republicans voted against the budget: Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ky.). Cruz announced this week he is running for president in 2016, and Paul is expected to do the same shortly.” Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz along with all Democrats and the two independents voted against the GOP budget. The Mall in Washington, D.C. Cory Lum/Civil Beat Hirono took to the Senate floor Thursday to argue about how the Senate budget “favors special interests and the wealthy and would hurt our middle class and economy,” according to her office. The U.S. House of Representatives passed its own budget resolution Wednesday, so the two chambers will have to resolve their differences after the Easter recess. Both budgets are heavy on increasing defense spending while cutting money for other programs.
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