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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 1:56 p.m., Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Move forces Senate discussion on Akaka bill

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Senate leaders announced this evening that it will decide Thursday if there will be a vote on the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, better known as the Akaka bill.

Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell filed a cloture petition on the issue, essentially forcing a discussion to decide whether there should be a full-scale debate on the Akaka bill. McConnell said discussion on the cloture will take place from 3 to 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time tomorrow. The matter will continue on Thursday.

"I am grateful to the Senate leadership for filing cloture on my bill," said Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, lead sponsor of the measure. "I look forward to the vote and am confident that many of my colleagues will support the motion to proceed."

To be successful, supporters of cloture must get at least 60 of the 100 senators to agree, and the vote is expected to be close. Gov. Linda Lingle and at least seven members of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs have been in Washington, D.C., trying to lobby non-committed senators or their staffers.

The cloture vote became necessary because six Republican senators have blocked the bill from coming up for debate on the floor.

Said Akaka: "My bill is about process and fairness. It is time for the Senate to debate this legislation."

The Akaka bill initiates a process that could lead to establishment of a federally recognized Native Hawaiian entity.

Supporters maintain that besides being the right thing for the U.S. government to do, the Akaka bill is needed to stave off the legal challenges against programs that give preference to Hawaiians.

Some opponents say it discriminates based on race or national origin. Other opponents, however, say it doesn't do enough to address the wrongs done to Hawaiians.

Akaka and other supporters of the bill have fought for six years to get the measure passed.