Revival of Akaka Bill planned
The congressman is optimistic about its passage with the new Democratic majority
WASHINGTON » U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka will again seek passage of a native Hawaiian recognition bill possibly as early as this week, some seven months after a procedural defeat on the Senate floor.
Cheered by his new Democratic majority, Akaka was rounding up signatures of both new and old supporters last week. As soon as he gets what is a politically viable number, Akaka said, he will introduce the so-called Akaka Bill.
"I wanted to drop (introduce) it this week, but there were some members I wanted for co-sponsor," Akaka said Friday.
ON ASSIGNMENTHonolulu Star-Bulletin Capitol Bureau Chief Richard Borreca will be filing reports from Washington, D.C., all this week on Hawaii's congressional delegation as the new Democratic majority in Congress takes power.
Last year, Akaka had the backing of the Democrats, but was not able to get the 60 votes needed to stop a GOP filibuster of the measure and bring it to the floor for a vote.
Haunani Apoliona, Office of Hawaiian Affairs chairwoman, said, "It's good news that immediate introduction will be occurring."
She added: "We look forward to passage early rather than later in 2007. There's a lot at stake for the present and future of native Hawaiians."
Because it is a new piece of legislation this year, the Akaka Bill will have to go back to committee. Akaka said he is confident it will get a good reception at the Indian Affairs committee, because the new Democratic chairman, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., "is excited about getting the bill passed."
Akaka's timetable is to have the Hawaiian recognition bill clear the Senate by as early as March. It would then have to be approved by the House before it could go to President Bush.
The measure has had a confusing legislative history since it was first introduced by Akaka and fellow Hawaii Democrat Sen. Daniel Inouye in 2000.
The bill, officially called the Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, would recognize native Hawaiians' status as an indigenous people, and establish a process for official U.S. recognition of a future native Hawaiian representative body.
Akaka said he is optimistic after six years of delays as the bill was rejected or stalled by GOP opponents, and then blocked by a last-minute letter of objections from the Justice Department last year.
"I would say we are better off, and we are in the majority. We will have a better chance working with the majority," Akaka said.
Last year, Akaka and the administration of Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, which also supports the bill, negotiated much of the summer to meet objections from the White House and the Justice Department.
To get the bill to the floor for a vote, Akaka and Lingle had agreed to a series of amendments, which legal consultants said wouldn't change the impact of the measure, but would make it palatable to the GOP administration.
Charles Wilkinson, a University of Colorado law professor, wrote last year that the proposed amendments would still accomplish the bill's purpose.
"Without question, the central thrust of the bill -- especially the overarching goal of establishing a sovereign native Hawaii government, recognized by the United States and assuming responsibility for the significant financial and land resources currently administered by state agencies -- remains completely intact," Wilkinson said in an opinion posted on the OHA Web site.
Opponents have said the Akaka Bill illegally discriminates in favor of one race and would not be constitutional, while supporters say the bill is about the former Hawaiian nation and not an ethnic group.
Akaka said his plan is to introduce a bill that incorporates the amendments, and that should be more convincing to opponents.
"The bill will include the substitute amendments that the Justice Department and the administration had concerns about," Akaka said in an interview here.
"I think the substitute amendments will show that they had a hand in this and they can't say it is unconstitutional because this bill indicates they just wanted some clarifications and they are in the bill," he said.