Akaka Bill changes catch state off guard


POSTED: Saturday, December 19, 2009

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka's office is taking responsibility for a lack of communication with Gov. Linda Lingle that resulted in her administration voicing objections to an amended version of the Akaka Bill that was taken up in House and Senate committees this week.

“;We didn't get the substitute amendment language to them on a timely basis,”; Akaka spokesman Jon Yoshimura said from Washington. “;This was not intentional at all.

“;Basically it was a very tight timetable, and we didn't do all of the things we should have done. We take responsibility for that.”;

Attorney General Mark Bennett said his office did not receive word of the proposed changes until Monday and Tuesday of this week, days before the congressional committees took up the bill.

The objections prompted U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, chief sponsor of the House version, to stick with the original version, which passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.

An amended version passed out of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Thursday with Akaka pledging to further discuss the concerns raised by Lingle and Bennett.

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act would establish a native Hawaiian governing entity that would then negotiate with state and federal agencies over assets such as land.

Lingle's concerns focus on whether the state's rights and interests would be protected as the new government is formed. One proposed change would immediately give the native Hawaiian governing entity many of the rights given to American Indian tribal governments.

Native Hawaiians also would be defined by more than just blood quantum, setting forth a minimum age of 18 and requiring participants to show evidence of a significant cultural, social or civic connection with the native Hawaiian community.

Additionally, the term “;native Hawaiian”; would be replaced by “;Qualified Native Hawaiian Constituent”; in the bill.

Changes were proposed by President Barack Obama's administration and negotiated by the Justice Department and the state's congressional delegation, Yoshimura said.

“;They wanted to make sure the bill would stand all constitutional objections,”; Yoshimura said.

Bennett said he had “;no idea they were coming”; until he received a copy of some of the changes Monday.

“;I knew the bill was being marked up, but I had no idea this was the model the bill was going to and that there had been substantive negotiations on this bill that I had not been a part of, nor the governor,”; he said.

Lingle said she spoke briefly to Akaka yesterday.

“;He was very apologetic for not contacting us but really didn't explain why these changes were made,”; she said.

Lingle, who has supported the Akaka Bill in the past, said she was disappointed by what she called the “;drastic”; changes, adding that the new version “;would not be something that we could support, nor could I ask the people of the state to support.”;

Bennett said he spoke yesterday with “;high-level”; members of the Justice Department and other congressional representatives yesterday, but declined to discuss the nature or substance of the talks.