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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, September 14, 2004

U.S. House committee to vote on Akaka bill

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Federal recognition for Native Hawaiians could receive a nudge toward reality tomorrow when a U.S. House of Representatives committee votes on its version of the so-called Akaka bill.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie

The House version of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act — which is identical to the one introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i — is one of 26 bills up for approval in the House Resources Committee.

The fact that it was scheduled has generated a lot of optimism among Hawai'i's congressional delegation.

"This is major progress for the Akaka bill," said U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, a primary sponsor of the House version.

"It sends a clear signal of approval from the committee with jurisdiction over native issues," Abercrombie said yesterday. "The stage is now set for passage by the full House of Representatives before Congress adjourns this year."

Abercrombie spokesman Michael Slackman said the chances of the bill being passed "are very good."

"Generally, they won't schedule something that they don't have the votes for," Slackman said. "We are very optimistic."

First introduced by Akaka, the bill has been seen as a means to give Hawaiians a protected, political status that would derail lawsuits that challenge as unconstitutional programs or benefits targeting them.

It would enable Native Hawaiians to re-establish self-government and affirm the special political and legal relationship they have with the federal government.

But the Senate version stalled this summer and proponents there have worked feverishly to win approval by Congress before the end of the current session. Having a House committee approve the bill would be helpful, said Akaka spokesman Paul Cardus.

"It couldn't hurt," he said. "I don't think it is indicative one way or the other. But it has passed the House in previous Congresses and it shows there is bipartisan support."

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawai'i, said he plans to attach the Akaka bill to one of 12 appropriations bills still moving through Congress.

Congress has about a month of lawmaking left.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.