Akaka bill allies keep hope alive for '05 vote
By Gordon Y.K. Pang and Dennis Camire
Advertiser Staff Writers
By Gordon Y.K. Pang and Dennis Camire
Local officials remain optimistic the Akaka bill can move out of the U.S. Senate this year, and they will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to lobby members of the House of Representatives.
"We are still hopeful, based on information provided to us by our legal advocates in Washington, D.C., that the bill will come up in the Senate before they adjourn this year," said Clyde Namu'o, administrator for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
But Congressman Ed Case, D-Hawai'i, said that even if the Senate passes the bill in the next month and a half, time constraints would make it difficult to move the bill out of the House before the new year.
Gov. Linda Lingle and likely four of the nine OHA trustees will meet Thursday with House leadership and members of its Resources Committee "in anticipation of the bill moving from the Senate to the House," Namu'o said.
"There's a feeling that if it's going to come up in the Senate, there's nothing more we can do, so our focus is looking forward to the House, said Namu'o, adding that he hoped Hawai'i Sens. Daniel K. Inouye and Daniel Akaka can persuade Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to allot time for the Akaka bill on the Senate agenda.
Both chambers of Congress must approve the bill in the same session or it does not become law. If just one chamber approves, that vote cannot be carried over to the new year.
Making the trip to Washington will be OHA Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona and board members Rowena Akana, Colette Machado and Oswald Stender.
Case said he and U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, encouraged Lingle to meet with the House leadership.
The four members of Hawai'i's congressional delegation met Wednesday afternoon and agreed "the strategy and the plan still is to get it out of the Senate and then take it up in the House," Case said.
Both Namu'o and Lingle said they had heard that the Senate next week could hear a cloture petition that, if passed, would force a debate and vote on the Akaka bill, which would grant federal recognition to Native Hawaiians.
But representatives for both Hawai'i senators said they had no information to substantiate that.
Akaka has been continuing lobbying efforts with GOP leaders, said Donalyn Dela Cruz, Akaka's spokeswoman.
"But there is no date set and (Frist) has yet to even give any attention to it in regards to scheduling or bringing it to the floor," Dela Cruz said. "Anything could happen. It would be wonderful if things happened next week."
Mike Yuen, spokesman for Inouye, echoed Dela Cruz's comments. "As far as we know, nothing is circulating," he said.
Adding to the uncertainty is that it's still unknown when Congress will break for the year.
At the end of next week, Congress is expected to break for two weeks in conjunction with the Thanksgiving holiday, Case said. There has even been discussion in the Senate about not coming back for the year, but some in the House believe it's more likely Congress will come back for up to two more weeks after the Thanksgiving break, then adjourn for the year.
Asked if the bill could be approved by both houses before the end of the year, Case said: "I think it's unlikely just because that's a lot to pull off inside of somewhere of one or two weeks. We have a minimum of one week in this calendar year, and a maximum of three weeks to transact our business. My guess is it's going to be two weeks — one week before Thanksgiving and probably one week in December."
Namu'o acknowledged that moving the bill out of both houses would be difficult given the timing. Nonetheless, he said, "there's a real remote possibility of getting it through the House and the Senate."
Lingle said she did not have any set plans to meet with people in Washington next week about the Akaka bill outside of the Thursday gathering organized by the Hawai'i delegation and OHA.
The governor noted that the main purpose of her trip is to accept an award from Diversity Best Practices and the Business Women's Network, two Washington, D.C.-based organizations.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at email@example.com.