Akaka bill passes Senate committee, heads to full Senate vote next year
By ERIN KELLY
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON – The Senate Indian Affairs Committee today approved a Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill, clearing the way for the legislation to come to a vote in the full Senate next year.
“I respectfully ask that the committee pass this bill in the interest of this generation and future generations of Native Hawaiians,” Sen. Daniel Akaka, the bill’s main sponsor, asked the panel minutes before the unanimous voice vote. “It is so critical and important to all people of the State of Hawaii.”
The vote came just one day after a companion bill was passed by the House Natural Resources Committee. That bill is expected to pass the full House next year. However, its fate in the Senate is uncertain. Previous attempts to pass the bill have stalled there when supporters were unable to garner the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.
Akaka’s spokesman, Jesse Broder Van Dyke, said the senator sees this session of Congress as the best chance yet to pass the bill.
Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents make up 60 votes. Also, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska supports the legislation.
“Sen. Akaka isn’t taking any votes for granted, but he’s optimistic,” Van Dyke said.
The bill approved today by the Senate committee includes an amendment that Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, dropped from the House version Wednesday because of objections from Gov. Linda Lingle and state Attorney General Mark Bennett.
The amendment grants governing authority to Hawaiians prior to — instead of after — negotiations with the federal and state governments and would treat Native Hawaiians as an Indian tribe in some cases.
Akaka said he spoke to Lingle this morning and would continue to work with her and Bennett to resolve their concerns before the bill comes before the full Senate.