Motion filed to push
Akaka Bill to vote
The move needs the support
of 60 senators in September
Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka says he can now mark his calendar with the scheduled debate of a native Hawaiian recognition bill after "we have struggled for five years to bring this bill to the floor."
Late yesterday, Republican Majority leader Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., filed a motion of cloture, which could bring the bill up for a floor vote in September.
The next hurdle will be at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 6, when 60 senators must vote to invoke cloture, a legislative maneuver that forces the bill up for a vote.
"I urge all of my colleagues to support the petition to invoke cloture. After five years the people of Hawaii deserve to have this issue considered by the Senate," Akaka said in a Senate floor speech after Frist filed the motion.
Akaka has said he has the 51 votes needed to pass the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005, commonly referred to as the Akaka Bill, and he also thinks he has the 60 votes needed for cloture. There are 44 Democrats in the Senate, so Akaka will need GOP help to move the bill.
To block even a floor debate, several Republican senators have placed holds on the bill that, according to Senate tradition, stop a bill from going to the floor for a vote.
Akaka stressed that it is fine if senators want to oppose the native Hawaiian recognition bill, but that it should be given a chance to be debated.
"If you oppose the bill, then vote against it, but give us the opportunity to debate the merits of this bill.
"Unfortunately, there are some in this body who do not even want to allow us to debate this issue. I ask them to carefully consider their position over the August recess," Akaka said.
"While I respect their ability to use Senate procedure to prevent us from considering this measure, I do not agree with their tactics," he said.
Hawaii's senior Sen. Daniel Inouye also welcomed the move by Frist, but said he wished it had come earlier.
"While I was disappointed that floor action did not occur on the bill this month, progress is obviously being made on its consideration. I look forward to the robust and open discussions that will occur during the consideration of this legislation," Inouye said.
The Senate adjourned yesterday for its annual August recess and will not return to work until noon Sept. 6.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees, who have been in Washington for two weeks awaiting action on the Akaka Bill, are returning to Hawaii but said they are encouraged that the bill now has a chance of Senate approval this fall.
"The important thing to remember is that the bill is very much alive, and the votes are there to pass this historic legislation when the Senate next meets," said Haunani Apoliona, OHA chairwoman.
"We had hopes the senators would stick to earlier commitments to have a debate and up-or-down vote this past week, but we understand this is how the system works and we're prepared to come back in September for a final vote," she said.
Opponents of the Akaka Bill argue that it is race-based and unconstitutional. Senate Republicans have also raised concerns that it could affect federal programs for mainland American Indians and could lead to legal gambling in Hawaii, which the bill's proponents dispute.