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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, December 13, 2001

Native bill's foes uncovered

By Susan Roth
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The Native Hawaiian recognition bill is dead in the Senate for this year, but lawmakers say a last-ditch effort at passage was not a complete failure because it revealed the identities of the bill's opponents.

That will allow Hawai'i Sens. Dan Inouye and Daniel Akaka — both Democrats — to focus their efforts, and the efforts of other supporters, on changing the minds of Republican colleagues Phil Gramm of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona, among others who have previously made their objections public. Inouye, in particular, has been frustrated that Republicans once again secretly blocked action on the measure when he tried to bring it to the floor last month. Under Senate rules, any one senator can secretly hold up a bill.

The bill, which would set a framework for creating a government-to-government relationship between Native Hawaiians and the federal government similar to those of American Indian tribes, passed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee chaired by Inouye in July. It passed the companion House committee in May but has not yet made it to the House floor.

Last year, the measure passed the House and the Senate committee only to stall on the Senate floor, blocked by a small group of conservative Republicans who said they believed it would create unfair advantages for Native Hawaiians. Inouye and Akaka, who has led the effort on the bill, were originally planning to seek action on the Senate floor in October, but the Sept. 11 attacks reset congressional priorities.

In what he described as an act of "legislative desperation," Inouye last week attached the Native Hawaiian bill as an amendment to the fiscal 2002 defense spending bill, which he could do as chairman of the Senate's defense appropriations committee.

Under Senate convention, legislation that does not involve appropriations should not be attached to spending bills. But Inouye said he was confounded by the repeated secret holds on the Hawaiian bill. He said he considers the tradition of the anonymous holds undemocratic. When Gramm raised a point of order on the Hawaiian bill's attachment to the defense bill late Friday night, Inouye immediately withdrew the amendment.

"But now I know who put the hold on the bill," he said this week, acknowledging that two Republican senators came forward to voice concerns on the measure but declining to name them. "I told them how unhappy I was and that I was against this kind of activity. But at the last minute like that, you can't discuss the substance of the bill. I will be speaking with them again in the future."

After the incident Friday night, Akaka asked Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., whether he would allow the bill to come to the floor for debate next year, and he said Daschle was encouraging but did not give him a certain date. Akaka followed up with a letter to Daschle formally requesting floor time, but he said he has not received a response.

But in the meantime, Akaka introduced an alternative measure Friday that is not intended to supplant their original bill but incorporates some changes requested by the Bush administration in ongoing discussions about the legislation. The significant changes include a change in the definition of the term "Native Hawaiian." The new version refers only to those who were eligible for Hawaiian Homes Commission programs in 1921 and their descendants.

In addition, the new version does not include an interagency working group for Native Hawaiian issues; it requires the new Hawaiian governing body to notify the state government and it refers to a "special and legal relationship" between Native Hawaiians and the U.S. government instead of a "trust relationship" in several instances.