Inouye pitches new native bill
WASHINGTON — Federal and state programs that benefit Hawaiians would be protected under new legislation being drafted even as the battle continues for formal federal recognition, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i, said yesterday.
Inouye also said he believed it "would be unwise" to battle for a new vote this year on the Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill after the Senate rejected an effort last week to bring the bill to the floor for a debate and vote.
Instead, supporters are expected to offer a new version of the Native Hawaiian bill after the next Congress convenes in January.
"While we wait for another opportunity (on the Native Hawaiian bill), we would like to make certain that all the programs we have in place at this moment are not placed in jeopardy," Inouye said.
According to a memorandum prepared by Inouye's office, the Senate has appropriated more than $1.2 billion for Native Hawaiian programs over the past 26 years.
Derek Kauanoe, a student at the University of Hawai'i's William S. Richardson School of Law, applauded the shift in strategy. Kauanoe obtained funding from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for 'Ahahui O Hawai'i, a law school club dedicated to Hawaiian causes, to set up a program designed to help Native Hawaiian students enter law school and stay there.
"It's about time they did that," Kauanoe said. He noted that several of the senators opposed to the so-called Akaka bill said there might be other ways to address the concerns of Hawaiians outside of federal recognition.
"We can keep on doing the same thing over and over again before we realize we've got to do something else," he said.
OHA administrator Clyde Namu'o pointed out that a key opponent of the federal recognition bill, U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, previously had said he was not against Hawaiians-only programs and would actually support such legislation.
Namu'o said he is also pleased with Inouye's plan.
Following last Thursday's vote, "all of us (Akaka bill supporters) went back and started to rethink whether there was a legislative fix that could protect the program but still not provide recognition," Namu'o said.
H. William Burgess of the group Aloha for All, which opposes the Akaka bill, said he and others will fight any legislation that seeks to provide privileges from one racial group to the detriment of others.
"I don't think that's appropriate," Burgess said. "That's the whole idea of the equal protection laws. Government does not allocate benefits or detriments based on race."
Burgess said he has no problem with the federal government continuing to provide funding for needy people in Hawai'i so long as it is not discriminatory.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, chief sponsor of the Native Hawaiian bill, said the programs were essential for Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike.
"The very fabric of Hawai'i is based on the culture of Native Hawaiians," Akaka said.
Inouye said that in negotiations with the Bush administration last year on the Native Hawaiian bill, officials "made it clear" that they supported language in the bill aimed at keeping the 160 federal programs now helping Hawaiians. The bill would protect the programs from legislative and legal attacks.
"What we're going to do is use the language ... in this measure that we hope will protect our benefits," he said. "We will use it verbatim."
Inouye said he hopes to introduce the new bill before Congress leaves for its Fourth of July recess.
"I'm in the process of trying to get bipartisan sponsorship" for the new bill, he said.
Inouye said he hoped House sponsors of the Native Hawaiian bill — Hawai'i's Democratic Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Ed Case — would introduce a similar bill in the House.
Inouye said that he and other supporters "were not going to sneak anything through" the Senate to protect Hawaiian programs.
"We're going to try to get committee approval so that at least if we're going to attach it to something, we can say it's been approved by the committee," he said. "This is just too important a measure to go sneaking around."
Inouye's position against trying for a new Senate vote on the Native Hawaiian bill this year apparently is the death knell for any further action until the next Congress forms.
The Native Hawaiian bill, originally introduced in 2000, would create a process for a Native Hawaiian government to be recognized by the U.S. government, similar to the political status given to Native American and Alaskan Native tribes.
James A. Thurber, a congressional expert at American University in Washington, said pushing the Native Hawaiian bill to next year for any new action "might be good" for its chances with the fall elections looming.
Thurber said Democrats might regain control of the House in elections and gain more seats in the Senate.
"It (Congress) might just change enough to give them enough votes in the Senate and the House to pass this thing," he said.
Inouye said any new version of the Native Hawaiian recognition bill would incorporate changes negotiated late last year with the Justice Department, the White House and the Office of Management and Budget.
The negotiations came after the Justice Department raised concerns about the bill last summer. Proposed changes addressing the concerns were to be added to the bill when it came up for floor debate.
Both supporters and opponents of the bill agreed that Native Hawaiian programs are central to the Akaka bill debate.
Kauanoe, the law school student, said the program to help Hawaiians succeed in law school has helped about a dozen potential law students to date and is expected to help dozens more.
He got a $30,000 grant from OHA for 'Ahahui O Hawai'i, a law school club dedicated to Hawaiian causes. Hawaiians are under-represented at the law school and in the Hawai'i legal community, he said.
It is one of hundreds of programs receiving state and federal funding that help Hawaiians, programs that run the gamut from Hawaiian language programs to health initiatives.
Correction: Derek Kauanoe obtained funding from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for 'Ahahui O Hawai'i, a law school club dedicated to Hawaiian causes. Information in a previous version of this story was incorrect.