Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Remember 9-11-01

Terror attacks
stall Akaka bill
in Congress

Proponents hope the
bill passes by the end
of this year's session

By Pat Omandam

For the second time in two years, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and other proponents are crossing their fingers that legislation giving federal recognition to native Hawaiians will pass Congress before the session adjourns for the year.

"Sen. Akaka is still working on it," spokesman Paul Cardus said yesterday. "He realizes there are other national issues that are there taking up a lot of the Senate's time, and it is precluding consideration of a number of important legislative measures, including this bill."

Less than a month remains in the 2001 congressional session. Originally, adjournment was targeted for Oct. 5, but the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks changed that as Congress immediately focused on emergency and security issues.

This time last year, Congress was preoccupied with Florida's presidential election recount, as well as a 50-50 split in the Senate. Those issues were cited by Akaka and U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) on Dec. 13, 2000, as reasons why the Akaka bill failed to pass last winter.

A year later, a reintroduced and amended Akaka bill awaits approval by House and Senate members, but no action has been taken since they returned from their August recess.

But that is not a sign the bill will not make it this year, said Rowena Akana, vice chairwoman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

"I spent two weeks there, and I didn't get the sense that the bill was in trouble at all," she said.

Akana was in Washington, D.C., from Oct. 25 to Thursday as narrator for a Hawaiian musical performance at the Kennedy Theater. While there, she met with Akaka and others to talk about the bill, which would recognize the right of native Hawaiians to self-governance and create a process to establish a government-to-government relationship with the United States.

"It's not that the bill hit a snag; it's just that it's not high priority," Akana said. "All these senators want to go home for Thanksgiving and the holidays. They want to push out the budget bills and all the things that are important and more pressing."

Opponents of the Akaka bill continue to argue it would divide Hawaii. For instance, local businesses may have to compete with possible native Hawaiian companies who do not pay state taxes, said retired attorney Bill Burgess, who supports equal protection of all of Hawaii's residents, no matter their ancestry.

Burgess said the bill makes a radical change in existing federal law by abandoning the mandatory criteria for recognition of tribes.

"If the U.S. senators and representatives can find time to read the bill, understand the radical change it would make in existing law and consider the bill's consequences, the bill can move in only one direction, into the trash can," he said.

Congress can take up the Akaka bill in January without any changes if the measure is not defeated. Next year marks the second of the two annual sessions of the 107th Congress.

"That luxury of time hasn't made the desire of the senator to pass it this session any less great, because if you have the opportunity now, you take it," Cardus said.

"Current events have shown you never know what's going to happen. You never know what's going to dominate the national agenda," he said.

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