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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 12:34 p.m., Monday, October 11, 2004

Akaka bill gets boost in Senate

By Frank Oliveri
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Hawai'i's senators secured a guarantee today from Republican leaders that the Akaka bill, which would pave the way for Native Hawaiian recognition, would get a vote in the U.S. Senate next year.

Sens. Dan Inouye and Daniel Akaka are certain that they have enough votes to get the measure approved.

"While I am disappointed that we could not reach agreement for consideration of (the bill) prior to the adjournment of the 108th Congress, I feel good about the commitment made today that we will no longer endure the procedural shenanigans that have prevented the Senate's consideration of this bill for the past five years," Akaka said.

After Akaka and Inouye cleared a key hurdle on the Native Hawaiian bill, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Democratic leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., pledged to ensure that the Akaka bill would be considered no later than Aug. 7, 2005.

The Senate recessed today to campaign for next month's elections. Congress will have a post-election session, but only take up unfinished business like spending bills.

The so-called Akaka bill would begin the process for Native Hawaiian recognition as indigenous people.

The measure has been held up this year by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. In exchange for the Hawai'i senators' support of a package of 32 bills from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Inouye and Akaka received public support from Kyl and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. on the Native Hawaiian legislation. The energy committee bills passed the Senate by a voice vote late Sunday.

"I would express publicly my personal commitment to assist in (an) effort to ensure that no more procedural roadblocks would be thrown in the way of that legislation or a final vote," Kyl said on the Senate floor today about the Native Hawaiian bill. "I will indeed do that and encourage all my colleagues to work with us toward that end."

Under Senate rules, the Akaka bill would need to be introduced again at the start of the new Congress that convenes in January and considered again by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The House would also have to approve the measure.

"I am pleased by the agreement we have reached, and I look forward to a full and robust debate in the United States Senate on this important bill, which, I believe, has much support from my colleagues," said Inouye, the top Democrat on the Indian Affairs committee.

Inouye recently attached the Akaka bill to a Senate appropriations bill, but he said there is no longer a need and he must take action to withdraw it. Both Hawai'i senators placed great importance on having the bill stand on its own and not attached to any other measure.

"As a result of this agreement, there is no longer the need to have the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act attached to a Senate appropriations measure, which I had publicly promised to do to advance the measure this session," Inouye said.

Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president, already has said he would support the Akaka bill. Also, Interior Secretary Gale Norton helped in structuring the Akaka bill.

The bill would recognize Hawaiians as an indigenous people, similar to American Indians and Native Alaskans. It would create a process for Hawaiians to form a sovereign government that could have a government-to-government relationship with the United States and more autonomy over Hawaiian affairs.