Lingle, Bennett objections stand Native Hawaiian bill passed by U.S. House, awaits Senate vote
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i Attorney General Mark Bennett said he and Gov. Linda Lingle continue to have concerns about language in the bill that would grant employees of the new government entity immunity from state or federal laws under certain circumstances.
The Lingle administration historically has supported the Akaka bill but pulled back that support after a new amendment was offered in both the U.S. House and Senate in December.
"There were changes made (to the December draft of the bill) that I think were a good-faith effort to address some of our concerns," Bennett said.
"In the end though, Gov. Lingle couldn't support the bill mainly because of the provision ... regarding exempting the Hawaiian governing entity, its officers and its employees from all the police-power regulations of the state so long as they're engaged in a governmental, noncommercial activity."
Bennett said the state would continue to lobby for changes to the bill language on the Senate side.
"Gov. Lingle still strongly supports recognition for Native Hawaiians even if she can't support the language of this bill, and hopefully we are not so far apart that we still can't continue to work on language that would be acceptable to everyone," he said.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, for whom the bill is named, said he believes the language hashed out between Hawai'i's congressional delegation and officials from the state and federal government should allay Lingle and Bennett's concerns.
"Though the governor had some reservations, I am certain that the bill protects the interests of all the people in Hawai'i," Akaka said in a statement.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie agreed, saying that the state and federal governments are "well protected" and in no danger of losing their own sovereignty or capacity to enforce the law.
"It was a collaborative effort, truly," he said. "Several pages of the bill, literally, are the result of discussions with (Bennett) trying to strengthen the capacity of the state to be comfortable with the questions about sovereign immunity within the context of existing native law."
State Office of Hawaiian Affairs Administrator Clyde Nāmu'o indicated there may still be room for compromise with the governor's office.
"We are hopeful that the remaining concerns of Gov. Lingle and Attorney General Bennett can be resolved when the bill crosses over to the Senate," he said in a statement.
H. William Burgess, chairman of Aloha 4 All, which views the bill as discriminatory, said his group continues to oppose the bill.
"It's going to radically change the way of life of the people of Hawai'i," Burgess said. "Instead of one government, we're going to have two governments."
Burgess said the new amendment that prompted Lingle's objections "definitely" makes the latest version even more onerous.
Hawaiian activist Leon Siu, who opposes the Akaka bill, said the most objectionable part of the process is that there continue to be "frantic rewrites" of the bill without any input from the Hawaiian community or others in Hawai'i.
Congress should hold public hearings on the bill in Hawai'i, he said.