"I am firmly convinced that many of the bill's opponents are resorting to such tactics because they recognize that their policy arguments are unconvincing and cannot carry the day."
Gov. Linda Lingle
Responding to critics of the Akaka Bill
Proposed Akaka Bill
changes get federal
OK, Lingle says
The Bush administration agrees with proposed amendments to a native Hawaiian recognition bill, clearing objections to the measure, Gov. Linda Lingle says.
In a letter written yesterday to all GOP senators, Lingle said, "Agreement has been reached with the administration regarding the four policy concerns they raised about the bill."
Since July 13, Lingle said, the staff of Hawaii's two senators, Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and representatives of the White House, Department of Justice, Office of Management and Budget, and the Defense Department have been meeting to come up with a compromise.
Here are the four concerns that Lingle says will be answered with amendments to the bill:
» Potential claims or lawsuits against the United States: "The agreement makes clear that no claims are created and will include language making it absolutely clear the comprehensive extent of the sovereign immunity of the United States."
» Military readiness: An amendment by the Department of Defense will be offered so that "it is clear that passage of the legislation can have no impact on military readiness."
» Criminal jurisdiction and trust land questions: "The status quo with regard to criminal law will be maintained and no land will be taken into trust under the Indian Reorganization Act."
» Gambling: "The agreed-upon amendment makes even clearer that gambling will not be permitted at all by the new native Hawaiian entity. The language will be definitive, plain and unambiguous."
The Bush administration, Lingle said, also offered "many valuable suggestions as to how the bill could be clarified and improved" and many of the suggestions will be included in the new version of the bill.
In her letter, Lingle also took a swipe at the bill's critics, saying, "The rhetoric on this bill has ratcheted skyward ... insulting to both the integrity and honesty of Sen. Inouye and Akaka, as well as me and members of my administration.
"I am firmly convinced that many of the bill's opponents are resorting to such tactics because they recognize that their policy arguments are unconvincing and cannot carry the day," she said.
Lingle, Hawaii's first GOP governor since 1959, will also go to Washington next month to lobby fellow Republicans for the bill.
The bill is now scheduled for a vote on whether to force a vote on the measure Sept. 6, when the U.S. Senate reconvenes. The bill is designed to "provide a process for the recognition by the United States of the native Hawaiian governing entity."
If the bill passes, a Congressional Budget Office estimate shows that implementation would cost about $1 million a year for the first few years.
The budget estimate also calculates that it would take three years to accomplish the first step of creating and certifying a roll of adult native Hawaiians who would then vote to establish a native Hawaiian governing council.
The CBO cost estimate was prepared March 25.
"CBO estimates that implementing S. 147 (the Akaka Bill) would cost nearly $1 million annually in fiscal years 2006-2008 and less than $500,000 in each subsequent year," the report stated.
The money would establish a U.S. Office for Native Hawaiian Relations with the federal Department of the Interior. The office would be responsible for developing and overseeing the federal relationship with the native Hawaii governing entity.
"The bill would create a nine-member commission responsible for creating and certifying a roll of adult native Hawaiians," the report said. "Based upon information from the Interior Department, CBO expects that this commission would need three years and three full-time staff members to complete its work."
The CBO report notes that the Akaka Bill "could lead to a new government to represent native Hawaiians."
"The transfer of any land or other assets to this new government, including land now controlled by the state of Hawaii, would be the subject of future negotiations."
If the bill clears the Senate, it would then move to the House.
But a group of 16 Republican critics in the U.S. House have written to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, saying the Akaka Bill "would set a dangerous precedent for our nation."
Arguing that the native Hawaiian governing entity would be "a race-based government exempt from the protections our Constitution affords," the 16 Republicans claimed that it would be impossible to fit native Hawaiians into the constitutional category of American Indians.
"Only people who have long operated as an Indian tribe, live as a separate and distinct community based on their geography and culture, and have a pre-existing political structure can be recognized as a tribe," the 16 House members said.
"Native Hawaiians do not meet this criteria," they added.
Robert Klein, former Hawaii state Supreme Court associate justice, who represents the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in lobbying for the Akaka Bill, says the measure will prevent hundreds of federal programs that benefit native Hawaiians from being struck down as being unconstitutional.
"Our opponents, Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian, have no answer to what would happen to these important programs without Akaka," Klein said.
"Without this bill, Hawaii stands to lose the major Hawaiian assets we now enjoy, as well as any further federal health, education and welfare benefits that now flow to our state. That is the urgency and the bill provides the only solution to the demise of those programs," Klein said.