Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, January 22, 2005

Congress sponsors to revive Akaka bill

By Frank Oliveri
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — A bill that would pave the way for Native Hawaiian recognition will be reintroduced in Congress on Tuesday, Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, said yesterday.

John McCain

Daniel Akaka

Daniel Inouye

Akaka said it was his goal to introduce the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, otherwise known as the Akaka bill, as early in the new congressional session as possible.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, will introduce the bill on the House side, as he did last session, said his spokesman Mike Slackman.

"We wanted to drop it at the same time," Akaka said. "I'm excited about the Senate's consideration of this legislation."

The Akaka bill seeks recognition of Native Hawaiians as an indigenous people by the U.S. government. It would create a framework for Native Hawaiian governance. That government would then be empowered to negotiate with the United States and Hawai'i over disposition of Native Hawaiian assets.

The House easily passed the measure by voice vote last year. Challenges to the bill, however, have been mounted in the Senate.

During most of last year's session, the Akaka bill was held up by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and others concerned that the bill would sanction race-based preferences, which they say would be unconstitutional.

More recently, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., newly appointed chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, voiced his opposition to the bill. The Hawai'i delegation was caught off guard by McCain because Republican leaders agreed last year to allow the Akaka bill to be debated and face an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor by Aug. 7. That agreement was part of a deal struck in October.

But after a meeting Jan. 10 with Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai'i, a powerful co-sponsor of the legislation, McCain said he would allow committee hearings and a vote on the bill.

"I'm trying to set up a time with McCain," Akaka said.

"We've had a good relationship, but I haven't spoken to him since his comments were made. I certainly want the committee to move as quickly as possible."

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is expected to pass the bill and move it to the full Senate for debate and a vote, Akaka said.

He said it is unclear when a hearing would be held or when a vote might occur.

Last year, Akaka and Inouye said they had at least 60 votes to pass the bill. With four additional Republicans and two new Democrats in the Senate, Akaka said he would need to speak with each Republican to gauge their support. He said freshman Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who grew up in Hawai'i, and Ken Salazar, D-Colo., would back the bill.

"Part of my plan is to talk to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle," he said.

Both Hawai'i senators have sought passage of the bill since 2000.