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Akaka Bill debate begins again soon


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POSTED: Saturday, December 12, 2009

Debate restarts in Congress next week on the so-called Akaka Bill in a year in which the bill's prognosis for passage seems better than ever.

There will be a hearing Wednesday before the House Committee on Natural Resources.

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act would allow for the formation of a governing body for native Hawaiians, similar to that of American Indians, that would negotiate with state and federal governments over land and other resources.

The House passed the bill in 2000 and 2007, but the bill has stalled in the Senate—most recently when President George W. Bush's administration opposed it and there were insufficient votes to bring it to the Senate floor.

With President Barack Obama's support and more Democrats in the Senate than during Bush's last term, chances appear to have improved for its passage, according to political observers.

“;We believe the atmosphere is different now,”; said David Helfert, spokesman for U.S. Rep Neil Abercrombie, D-Urban Honolulu.

Helfert said if the committee approves the bill Wednesday, it could be sent to the House floor.

Obama is on the record saying he will sign the bill.

In the Senate the bill is before the Committee on Indian Affairs, which held a hearing on it earlier this year but did not vote, said Jesse Broder Van Dyke, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.

Van Dyke said the U.S. Department of Justice, under the Obama administration, supports the measure, which is a reversal of its position when Bush was in charge.

“;With the new Justice Department, from our perspective it's on track,”; Van Dyke said.

Van Dyke said the previous Congress had a narrow Democratic majority, not enough to bring the bill for a floor vote.

He said the new Congress has 60 votes on the Democratic side and bipartisan support for the Akaka Bill from Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Van Dyke said Akaka has been talking with members of the Indian Affairs Committee about supporting the bill.

Opponents have charged that the bill is race-based.

Some opponents in Hawaii say the bill would thwart efforts to restore an independent Hawaiian nation.