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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Civil rights panel sets briefing on Akaka bill

By Dennis Camire
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will delve into the Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill at a Washington briefing on Jan. 20.

Few details were available yesterday, but the commission's minutes indicate they were seeking experts to brief them on the constitutional, legal and civil rights policy aspects of the bill introduced by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawai'i.

The bill, which is being blocked by a group of conservative Senate Republicans, would allow Native Hawaiians to form their own government.

Opponents say such an idea is unconstitutional because it would create a race-based government.

Patricia Zell, a former chief counsel for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said she was among those invited to speak to the commission, but a scheduling conflict may prevent it.

The commission, whose members are appointed by the president and Congress, has subpoena power. It studies and investigates civil rights issues and complaints. Because it doesn't have enforcement powers, it refers complaints to government agencies for action.

Last month, Akaka said Senate leaders assured him they would work to get a vote on the bill when the session resumes this month. The Senate was scheduled to vote on a procedural motion related to the bill on Sept. 6, but that was delayed when the chamber had to deal with hurricane relief efforts and a U.S. Supreme Court nomination.

Reach Dennis Camire at dcamire@gns.gannett.com.