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Lingle drops opposition to Akaka bill after changes

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U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said today that an agreement has been reached with Gov. Linda Lingle on a native Hawaiian federal recognition bill.

The new version of the bill would still grant sovereign authority to native Hawaiians prior to, rather than after, negotiations with the federal and state governments on land use and cultural issues. But it would allow the state to maintain its ability to regulate for health and safety issues and make clear that members of a new Hawaiian government entity are not immune from criminal prosecution. Lingle had objected to granting Hawaiians sovereign authority prior to negotiations, but is satisfied with the state protections in the new version.

Inouye said he is scheduled to speak to the White House about the new version tomorrow. The Obama administration had backed granting sovereign authority to native Hawaiians prior to negotiations so Hawaiians would be treated similarly to federally recognized American Indians and native Alaskans.

Inouye, D-Hawaii, said he hopes the bill can now come to a Senate vote this month.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, the bill’s main sponsor, has been pushing for a vote this year and was urged by Inouye and others to act quickly because time is running out before the November elections, which could change the political composition of the Senate. The bill has been pending in Congress for a decade and has stalled because of opposition from Senate Republicans who see it as race-based discrimination.

Akaka informed state Attorney General Mark Bennett on Friday that he and Inouye had accepted the amendments to the bill.

Bennett said today that the amendments would allow the Lingle administration to once again support the bill.

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