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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Akaka bill passes House 245-164

Advertiser Staff

The Akaka bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives this evening by a vote of 245-164.

The bill would give Hawaiians the right to form their own government, similar to American Indians and Native Alaskans, and negotiate with state and federal governments over land use and cultural preservation.
Hawaiians would have the inherent power to govern prior to any negotiations, and any new noncommercial government activities, services and programs run by Hawaiians would not be subject to state or county regulation.
It’s the third time the bill has passed the House since it was first introduced in 2000. The bill must still be passed by the Senate, where it has run into roadblocks twice previously, before it can go President Obama for his signature.
Obama’s press secretary yesterday reiterated that the president will sign the bill if it is brought to his desk.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, the bill's author, issued this statement following the vote:
“The passage of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act is an important milestone for all the people of Hawaii. We have a moral obligation, unfulfilled since the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani, that we are closer to meeting today. I thank and congratulate Representatives Abercrombie and Hirono for their leadership and work to bring about today’s successful vote. Neil’s unwavering support for federal recognition of Native Hawaiians over the past decade is greatly appreciated. I am optimistic about bringing the bill to the Senate floor this year.
“Though the Governor had some reservations, I am certain that the bill protects the interests of all the people in Hawaii. The bill passed today specifically says ‘members of the Native Hawaiian governing entity will continue to be subject to the civil and criminal jurisdiction of Federal and State courts.’ The native governing entity cannot regulate non-Hawaiians. The native governing entity will need to enter into negotiations with the State of Hawaii and the United States, and all three parties will want to be in good standing and comply with existing law. Any agreements on transfers of authority or land will require the approval of the state Legislature.”
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs also issued a statement, saying it was pleased with the vote.
"Today's vote is a major step in the century-long effort of Native Hawaiians to reconcile the history of past injustice and move forward together for all of Hawaii," the OHA statement said.
The bill moved out by the House contains an amendment made by Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai‘i, which was made at the behest of the Obama administration. The language says Hawaiians have inherent power so they would be treated similarly to American Indians and Native Alaskans.
Gov. Linda Lingle and state Attorney General Mark Bennett, who historically have supported the Akaka bill, object to the latest version, arguing that it would essentially create two sets of rules for Hawaiians and other state residents.
Two other amendments offered by House Republicans failed. One would have required a vote of all of Hawai‘i’s electorate to support a Native Hawaiian entity. The other would have stated specifically that there would be no altering of federal or state laws as a result of the Akaka bill.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama "recognizes that Native Hawaiians are a vital part of our nation's cultural fabric, and they will continue to be so in the years to come."
Gibbs’ statement said that Obama support Abercrombie’s amendment because “it adds important clarifications to craft a durable pathway forward.”