Thursday, March 10, 2005

Senate committee OKs
amended Akaka bill

The measure granting federal
recognition to Hawaiians now
heads to its first Senate vote

The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved an amended version of a bill yesterday to grant native Hawaiians federal recognition, clearing the way for a vote by the full Senate.

The committee approved the measure on a voice vote, said Mike Yuen, spokesman for Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.

The so-called Akaka bill, which has stalled during the past three sessions of Congress, would grant native Hawaiians the same rights of self-government enjoyed by American Indians and native Alaskans.

The committee amended the bill to make clear that native Hawaiians would not be eligible for federal programs and services available to American Indians, said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, the bill's primary sponsor.

Akaka said he and Inouye joined with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the committee chairman, in offering the amendment. The amendment addresses concerns raised by McCain and others, Yuen said.

"Native Hawaiians already have federal programs addressing matters including health, education and housing," Akaka said.

The bill has cleared the Indian Affairs Committee in the past but has never been put to a vote by the full Senate, although it won approval from the House in September 2000. U.S. Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Ed Case, both D-Hawaii, have introduced a companion bill in the House this session.

No date has been set for a vote on the Senate floor this year, and Akaka acknowledged Hawaii's delegation has a challenge ahead. He is optimistic, however, that he has the votes to win Senate approval for the bill, according to his spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz.

Inouye issued a statement saying he is "extremely gratified" that the committee approved the bill and sent it to the full Senate.

Gov. Linda Lingle, who testified in favor of the bill during a committee hearing last week, said she was grateful to fellow Republican McCain and the committee's other members for passing the measure.

U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

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