Hawaii Sen. Akaka's bill faces House debate
By Dennis Camire
Advertiser Washington Bureau
By Dennis Camire
WASHINGTON — A bill creating a pathway to Native Hawaiian self-government is scheduled to come before the full House for debate tomorrow and a possible vote, while the Bush administration issued a statement yesterday saying it "strongly opposes" the bill's passage.
This is the second time the full House has taken up the bill, known as the Akaka bill for its sponsor, Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, which originally passed the chamber in 2000. But the measure has remained stalled in the Senate because of fierce Republican opposition since then.
This year, the bill cleared the House Natural Resources Committee in the spring on a voice vote with no changes.
The Senate Indian Affairs Committee also approved a similar bill in the spring, but so far no floor action has been scheduled.
The bill would create a process for a Native Hawaiian governing entity to be formed and gain federal recognition. The new government would be able to negotiate with the United States and Hawai'i over the disposition of Native Hawaiian land, assets and other resources.
The bill faces ongoing vocal opposition from Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate, and a possible White House veto.
"If (the bill) were presented to the president, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto" it, the Bush administration said in a statement of administration policy issued yesterday.
The statement said the bill would "divide the governing institutions of this country by race" and raise "significant constitutional concerns."
"The administration strongly opposes any bill that would formally divide sovereign United States power along suspect lines of race and ethnicity," the statement said.
But in another statement issued yesterday, Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Mazie Hirono, both Hawai'i Democrats, said the bill has been "misinterpreted and mischaracterized" by opponents.
"The legislation allows Native Hawaiian people to decide for themselves the organization of a government entity to represent their interests in a relationship with the U.S. government," the statement said. "The relationship parallels that of Native American tribes and Alaskan natives."
Abercrombie and Hirono said the bill does not create an entitlement and is not based on racial groups, as opponents charge.
"It doesn't turn over assets of the U.S. government, nor give anyone title to anything they do not already own," they said.
Reach Dennis Camire at email@example.com.