Akaka Bill faces crucial vote
The Senate debates today and decides tomorrow whether to vote on the measure
THE LONG-stalled bill that paves the way for federal recognition of native Hawaiians received a boost in the U.S. Senate yesterday and faces a crucial vote tomorrow.
Late yesterday, Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell filed a petition for a cloture vote on the so-called Akaka Bill. The cloture motion essentially forces the Senate to decide whether it will take up the measure.
The Senate scheduled three hours of debate today on the motion and a vote tomorrow on whether to take the Akaka Bill to the Senate floor for further debate and a vote on the bill itself.
AKAKA BILL ROAD
Today: The Senate debates a motion to force a floor vote on the bill.
Tomorrow: 60 Senators must approve the motion for the bill itself to reach the floor for debate and a vote.
And then: Even if the bill passes the Senate, it must still get approved by the U.S. House.
The cloture motion needs the votes of 60 senators to open the way for full Senate consideration. Cloture ends the possibility that opponents could filibuster the bill and prevent a vote.
"I am grateful to the Senate leadership for filing cloture on my bill," said the bill's author, Sen. Daniel Akaka, who has tried for about seven years to bring the issue to a vote. "I look forward to the vote and am confident that many of my colleagues will support the motion to proceed.
"My bill is about process and fairness. It is time for the Senate to debate this legislation," Akaka said in a press release.
At the same time he filed the petition on the Akaka Bill, McConnell also filed for a cloture vote on the Estate Tax, also known as the "death tax." Debate on that would precede consideration of cloture for the Akaka bill.
Senate Democrats, led by Akaka, D-Hawaii, appear to have near-unanimous support for his bill, but several Republicans oppose it as an unconstitutional, race-based plan.
The bill, formerly known as the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, would recognize a legal and political relationship between the United States and a native Hawaiian governing entity, giving native Hawaiians self-governing rights similar to those of Native American tribes.
Last year, congressional leaders agreed that the bill would be brought to the Senate floor on or before Aug. 7, but the measure stalled after concerns were raised by several senators. A cloture vote was then set for Sept. 6, but tabled after lawmakers dealt with emergency measures related to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast.
The bill's opponents say it will create two classes of people in Hawaii and would signal the beginning of the state's secession from the union.
Opponents received two high-profile boosts in Washington recently. The conservative magazine National Review blasted the bill in a cover story with the headline "Shame" this month. And last month the Washington-based U.S. Commission on Civil Rights concluded in a report that the Akaka Bill would "discriminate on the basis of race or national origin, and further subdivide the American people into discrete subgroups accorded varying degrees of privilege."
If the cloture vote succeeds, passage of the Akaka Bill would require only a simple majority. While a cloture vote generally indicates support for a bill, it does not guarantee passage, because opponents sometimes vote for cloture and then vote against the bill itself after further debate.
If the bill does pass in the Senate, it would go to the House for further action.
Gov. Linda Lingle, Hawaiian Homes Commission Chairman Micah Kane and Attorney General Mark Bennett were in Washington this week to gather support for the bill. Akaka thanked them, as well as the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, the National Congress of American Indians, the Alaska Federation of Natives and the American Bar Association for lobbying for his bill.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.