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Thursday, January 18, 2001

Akaka bill should
stand on its own,
Abercrombie says

He will reintroduce the bill
but says approval in the House
will be more difficult this year

By Pat Omandam

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie says a federal bill that allows native Hawaiians to gain federal recognition shouldn't be counted on to fight a current federal lawsuit that threatens native programs.

But if passage of the Akaka bill this year helps the state defend the constitutionality of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and native gathering rights, then all the better.

"I never think about legislation in terms of nullifying something or even affirming something because that gets too tricky," Abercrombie said yesterday.

"Legislation should be able to stand on its own and be able to withstand any constitutional scrutiny.

"To the degree or extent that impacts favorably on something like the Barrett (lawsuit) is all well and good," he said.

With changes in committee assignments in the House, Abercrombie is waiting until he has discussed the Akaka bill with colleagues before he reintroduces the measure.

The bill gained quick passage in the House last year, but languished in a Senate caught up with last-minute government spending bills and the bitter presidential election recount.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka had said the senator plans to reintroduce the namesake bill sometime in February.

Abercrombie said House approval of the Akaka bill will be different from last year -- and it won't be easy. Any time a bill is reintroduced, it must go through all the same stops again.

Still, he doesn't see a need to hold joint hearings in Honolulu on the bill, as was done last summer, because testimony from those hearings remain on the record.

He said the secret to a bill's success is to get people to vote for it for their own reasons.

"And so I just want to make sure I'm on firm ground with everybody and understand what concerns they might have or not have, and to the degree they do have any concerns, I want to be able to alleviate them," Abercrombie said.

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