U.S. House passes Akaka Bill again
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The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Akaka Bill yesterday for the second time in seven years, but the measure to give native Hawaiians some self-governance powers faces several big hurdles.
To become law, the bill must be approved by the Senate, which did not allow it to proceed to a final vote last year. No hearing has been set, and Hawaii U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka said he is working to get the bill scheduled.
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» Information on the bill, HR 505, can be found at thomas.loc.gov.
Also, the Bush administration has threatened a veto, saying the legislation, which passed the House by a 261-153 vote, would divide Americans "along suspect lines of race and ethnicity."
Still, Akaka said the House vote "provides great momentum in our effort to extend federal recognition to Hawaii's indigenous people."
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Hawaii's congressional representatives and officials of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs applauded yesterday U.S. House passage of a bill awarding self-governance rights to those with native Hawaiian ancestry.
U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said the vote on the House version of the so-called Akaka Bill shows the majority recognizes justice for native Hawaiians is long overdue.
"This is a victory for all the people of Hawaii," Hirono said in a statement.
The House version of the identical Senate Akaka Bill must still pass the Senate and be signed by the president to become law.
The White House threatened a veto, saying the legislation, which passed by a 261-153 vote, would divide Americans "along suspect lines of race and ethnicity."
The bill would give the 400,000 people nationwide of native Hawaiian ancestry the right to form a governing entity that could negotiate with the state and federal governments such issues as control of natural resources, lands and assets. The interior secretary would have to approve that governing body.
Native Hawaiians who support the bill insist that they deserve many of the self-autonomy rights provided to American Indians and native Alaskans.
But the White House said the bill "raises significant constitutional concerns that arise any time legislation seeks to separate American citizens into race-related classifications rather than according to their own merits and essential qualities."
The vote on the proposal was the first in the House since the chief sponsor, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, won its passage in 2000.
It was the second time in seven years of trying that House supporters had managed to get the bill passed by the full House. Last year the legislation fell four votes short of the 60 needed to advance to a final vote in the Senate.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, the bill's namesake, said the passage would give his efforts momentum.
"I was thrilled to see bipartisan support for this long-needed legislation that underscores our ongoing efforts toward reconciliation across our islands," Akaka said.
Hawaii Democrats U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and Abercrombie, who led debate for the bill on the House floor, also commended the vote.
Haunani Apoliona, head of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said the Akaka Bill would shield programs for Hawaiians from legal challenges as well as provide for a process for official U.S. recognition of a future native Hawaiian governing entity.
"Today's vote in the House is an important step toward the goal of achieving our inherent right to self-determination, and a better Hawaii," said Apoliona, who chairs OHA's board of trustees.
Separately, four members of the state civil rights advisory committee spoke in favor of the vote.
The members -- Amy Agbayani, Daphne Barbee, Linda Colburn and Wayne Tanna -- cautioned they do not represent the opinion of the entire 17-member Hawaii body, which advises the national Civil Rights Commission on local issues. But they said they hoped the U.S. Senate would pass the companion bill to the House legislation.
The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission spoke in favor of the Akaka Bill in 2001. But the national Commission on Civil Rights, which has opposed the legislation, appointed 14 new members to its Hawaii advisory body this year. They include William Burgess, a lawyer and activist who has fought Hawaiian-only government programs.
The Hawaii advisory committee did not take a position on the Akaka Bill this year.