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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, December 19, 2009

Akaka bill changes ‘drastic’

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Gov. Linda Lingle

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Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday said she is "extremely disappointed" with changes to a Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill in the U.S. Senate and will oppose the bill if the state's concerns are not addressed.

The governor described the changes as "drastic," but beyond the substance, she also complained the state was not consulted and the changes were made by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee without adequate public notice.

"The version that passed out of the Senate would not be something that we could support, nor could I ask the people of the state to support it, which is very disappointing because I have supported this bill since I was elected to office," Lingle told reporters at the state Capitol.

"I think it was good for all the people of the state. I went out and I shared my views with people and I think, generally speaking in the community — not everyone, but generally speaking — people thought this was a fair and a just thing to do."

Lingle said the U.S. House version of the bill — known as the Akaka bill for its main sponsor, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i — is important because it may help deter lawsuits challenging Hawaiian programs as racially discriminatory and create a process for recognizing a Hawaiian government.

The bill would recognize Native Hawaiians as an indigenous people with the right to self-determination, much like American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The amended bill in the Senate 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 for some purposes.

Many conservative opponents of the Akaka bill believe it is unconstitutional because it recognizes Hawaiians based on race.

Lingle said Akaka was very apologetic when she spoke to him on Thursday for not consulting with the state but said the senator did not explain why the changes were made.

Jon Yoshimura, the communications director for Akaka, said the changes were developed in consultation with the Obama administration.

State Attorney General Mark Bennett spoke with U.S. Department of Justice officials about the changes in the Senate version yesterday. He would not disclose the details but described the conversation as good and said talks would continue.

Yoshimura said Akaka hopes the dialogue between the state, Hawai'i lawmakers and the Obama administration will lead to an understanding.

"The senator really wants to make this thing pono," he said.