Akaka bill remains on back burner
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
With the clock ticking toward the end of this year's congressional session, supporters and opponents of the Akaka bill can agree on one thing:
Neither side has a good idea of when, or if, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, also known as the Akaka bill in honor of lead author U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, will get a vote on the floor of the Senate before this year's session ends.
Efforts by Akaka and fellow Hawai'i Sen. Daniel K. Inouye to get the bill moving in recent months have been stymied — first by conservative Republican senators and then a suddenly hectic fall congressional agenda that included disaster relief efforts, skyrocketing gasoline prices and two Supreme Court nominations.
The situation has been compounded by the turmoil in the House leadership precipitated by the troubles of now former House Majority leader Tom DeLay.
Akaka, in a prepared statement, said that he met Thursday with Senate leadership "to continue working with them to find time for (the Akaka bill) during this very busy Senate schedule."
He will "make an announcement" when a time is scheduled, he said.
Clyde Namu'o, administrator for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, had hoped the bill could be heard at the end of this month.
But yesterday, Namu'o said he had received nothing definitive from Patton Boggs, the Washington-based company doing legal and lobbying work for OHA.
The good news for bill supporters, Namu'o said, is that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist "indicates that he is still committed to resolving this matter before the Congress adjourns in 2005."
Congress initially was to adjourn in early October, but its Web site now says the target adjournment date is "to be announced."
Opponents of the bill said they were equally clueless about the situation.
"The fact is the schedule now, in the Senate, is so much in turmoil because of Katrina, and because of the Supreme Court vacancy, and because of the budget deficit and gasoline prices, the schedule is moving on almost a day-by-day basis," said Washington attorney Bruce Fein, who until recently had been working on behalf of Akaka bill opponents.
"It certainly is possible that it could come up; it's possible that nothing will happen," Fein said. "It's just too volatile in the Senate to know because the political situation has become so fluid."
Richard Rowland, president of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, which opposes the bill, also said he's received no clear word on when it might come up.
"Not a peep, I haven't heard a thing," said William Burgess of Aloha For All, another group that opposes the bill.
The Akaka bill would establish a process for the United States to formally recognize the nation's 400,000 Native Hawaiians as an indigenous people. Native Hawaiians would then decide whether to pursue a sovereign government that could negotiate with the United States and the state of Hawai'i over land use and other rights.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at email@example.com.