Monday, November 30, 2015         


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Fixed Akaka Bill will move forward

By Daniel K. Akaka


For more than a decade, I along with the rest of Hawaii's congressional delegation have worked on the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, a bill that would provide parity to Hawaii's indigenous people.

I understand that the people of Hawaii have waited patiently for this bill to become law. I am making progress toward passing the bill and sending it to the president. U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and I met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Friday to discuss floor consideration. I remain optimistic that the bill will be considered in the Senate this year.

The legislation passed the House of Representatives in February. It is now pending in the Senate. Last month, U.S. Sen. Inouye and I reached an agreement with Gov. Linda Lingle to amend the bill to secure her support.

When the bill comes to the Senate floor, I will offer a substitute amendment that includes several changes to address the state's outstanding concerns. The amendment provides clarification on the authorities and powers of the native Hawaiian governing entity during the interim period -- the period following the entity's recognition by the United States and before the conclusion of negotiations with the federal and state governments.

The amendment makes four changes to the House-passed bill.

» It will limit the native Hawaiian governing entity's immunity from lawsuits brought by the state to enforce its regulatory authority.

» It will ensure that during the interim period the activities of the entity will be subject to state regulatory authority as it relates to public health and safety.

» It reiterates that the entity's officers and employees will continue to be subject to the criminal jurisdiction of the state.

» It will ensure that the bill will not have an impact on federally recognized American Indian tribes or Alaska Natives.

Other than these four changes, the bill language will remain the same as in the House-passed bill.

I am pleased that Gov. Lingle strongly supports the bill with these changes, and that we have committed support from the White House and native and non-native groups in Hawaii and across the country.

I understand that there are concerns that the 111th Congress is nearing its conclusion. However, the Senate will be in session in September and early October, will return after the elections in mid-November, and yet another session is expected after Thanksgiving. There is still time.

It has been more than 51 years since Hawaii became a state and more than 100 years since Hawaii was made a United States territory. Congress has enacted more than 160 statutes that recognize and provide benefits for native Hawaiians as an indigenous people and as the original inhabitants of the islands that are now the state of Hawaii.

In spite of this, as of today, native Hawaiians have not been provided the same opportunity for self-determination as the rest of America's indigenous people. I am determined to see the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act enacted into law, so we can at long last begin the reconciliation process, and bring parity in the United States' treatment of native Hawaiians.

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