Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Chances for Akaka Bill's passage expected to be slim

Tax and spending bills will likely dominate the U.S. Senate's time

By Mark Niesse

Associated Press


A long-sought federal law allowing native Hawaiians to form their own government stands little chance of passing Congress before year's end, and its approval may be even less likely after a Republican House majority takes office in January.

Native Hawaiians are the last remaining indigenous people in the United States who have not been allowed to establish their own government, a right already extended to Alaska Natives and American Indian tribes.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, for whom the legislation is named, said he will push to pass the bill during the Senate's lame-duck session starting Monday, but the chamber also will be busy with tax-cut extensions and a stopgap spending measure to keep the government running.

"I think it's as good as dead," said outgoing U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, R-Hawaii, who supports the measure. "We had a situation where the president of the United States said he would sign the Akaka Bill and the Democrats held overwhelming majorities in both chambers, and Sen. Akaka wasn't able to get it through."

More than 117 years have passed since the Hawaiian kingdom was overthrown, and this measure is an effort to begin reconciling the federal government with the nation's 400,000 native Hawaiians. The legislation passed the U.S. House 245-164 in February but stalled in the Senate, where it failed to get consideration before last week's election.

"The odds are bad," U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, told KGMB-TV. "I'm being very candid and upfront because I don't want people to have their hopes unjustifiably raised."

President Barack Obama and Inouye supported the bill, and it had enough support to pass if it could have reached the Senate floor for a vote. Gov. Linda Lingle reinstated her support following a deal to clarify the bill to prevent a Hawaiian government from providing immunity from the state's laws unless Congress agrees after negotiations.

But the bill never came up as the Senate occupied itself with other issues, including extending unemployment insurance.

Several Republican senators have said they oppose the bill because they see it as race-based favoritism.

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