Akaka bill takes
‘giant step’ in House
The measure passes out of
committee but still faces a full
vote and a Senate obstacle
A bill that would grant federal recognition to native Hawaiians cleared a major hurdle yesterday in the House but still faces the same roadblocks that have stalled its Senate version.
The House Resources Committee unanimously approved the so-called Akaka bill, setting it up for a possible vote by the full House before Congress adjourns.
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, the House bill's primary sponsor, and the rest of Hawaii's congressional delegation are working under an Oct. 3 deadline to get the bill, which has failed in two previous sessions.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye has said he plans to attach the legislation from the Akaka bill, named for fellow Hawaii Democrat Sen. Daniel Akaka, to one of 12 appropriations measures being considered this fall. Those are bills the Senate has to pass to fund government.
"We're exploring every legislative path we know of," Abercrombie said yesterday in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., adding that he believes Congress will work well into October. "We're moving on all fronts together."
It is now up to the House Republican leadership to schedule a vote, he said.
"I can assure you something's going to be done; I can't say when it's going to be done," Abercrombie said. "This is a giant step."
The bill passed out of committee is "word for word" the same as its Senate counterpart, which is stalled, Abercrombie said.
If it passes the House, the bill will be sent directly to the Senate, where it will require unanimous consent for a vote. This means that opposition from even one senator could stop the bill from getting a vote.
A spokesman for Sen. John Kyl, who is reported to be the one who placed a hold on the bill in the Senate, said that the Arizona Republican remains opposed to the Akaka bill.
"He's in opposition to the bill," Kyl spokesman Scott Montrey said in a telephone interview. "Whether he's the one who did it or somebody else, it's not all that important."
Abercrombie acknowledged that individual lawmakers are opposed to the bill, but said it has more to do with issues going on in their home districts than the provisions of the bill.
Supporters have tried to overcome "political consideration" members may have, he said.
If it wins passage in the House, the bill would also underscore to the Senate the support the bill has among other lawmakers, he said.
The Akaka bill would establish an office in the Department of the Interior to address native Hawaiian issues and create a group composed of representatives of federal agencies that currently administer programs and policies affecting Hawaiians. In effect, the federal government would recognize Hawaiians as a native population, as they already do American Indians and native Alaskans.