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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 30, 2005

Senate acts to move Akaka bill

Advertiser Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., started a procedure yesterday that could eventually force a debate and floor vote on the Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill in September.

The next step in the process, known as cloture, will occur on Sept. 6, when the first vote will be held on a petition to bring the bill to the floor for debate. To be successful, 60 senators will have to vote in favor of the cloture motion.

That would start 30 hours of debate before a final vote on the bill itself, which would create a process for Native Hawaiians to form their own government. Fifty-one senators would have to support the bill in order for it to pass.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, for whom the bill is named as its lead sponsor, took to the Senate floor immediately after the cloture motion was filed yesterday, urging support for the petition.

"After five years, the people of Hawai'i deserve to have this issue considered by the Senate," Akaka said. "If you oppose the bill, then vote against it, but give us the opportunity to debate the merits of the bill."

The Akaka bill was originally scheduled for debate and vote last week, but as many as six Republican senators put holds on the legislation, objecting for various reasons including the possibility it could allow Native Hawaiians to eventually become involved with gambling.

"While I was disappointed that floor action did not occur on the bill this month, progress is obviously being made on its consideration," said Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai'i, a co-sponsor. "I look forward to the robust and open discussions that will occur during the consideration of this legislation."

In addition to Frist, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., the chief opponent of the bill, was among the 17 senators who signed the cloture petition to bring the bill to the floor. They and other Republican leaders had made a commitment last year to schedule a debate on a vote by Aug. 7, but were blocked by the objections.

The bill's supporters may already be near the 60-vote requirement to bring it to the floor. They expect all 44 Democrats to vote for debate along with the Senate's one independent, Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont.

The measure also has five Republican co-sponsors — Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also has said he would vote for the bill.

In addition to Frist and Kyl, other Republicans signing the petition were Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Charles Grassley of Iowa.

That could mean there already are 56 votes in favor of forcing the bill to the floor on Sept. 6.

Haunani Apoliona, chairwoman of the board of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said she remains optimistic the bill will pass. "The important thing to remember is that the bill is very much alive and the votes are there to pass this historic legislation when the Senate next meets," she said in a prepared release.

While OHA trustees had hoped a vote would be held last week, "we're prepared to come back in September for a final vote," Apoliona said.