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Obama cabinet officials urge passing of Akaka Bill

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have asked Senate leaders to pass the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act during the lame-duck session of Congress and send it to the president for his signature.  

In letters sent this week to Sens. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, Holder and Salazar express the Obama administration’s “strong support” for the legislation allowing native Hawaiians to establish their own government, a right already extended to Alaska Natives and native American tribes.

“Of the Nation’s three major indigenous groups, Native Hawaiians — unlike American Indians and Alaska Natives — are the only one that currently lacks a government-to-government relationship with the United States,” the letter states. “This bill provides native Hawaiians a means by which to exercise the inherent rights to local self-government, self-determination and economic self-sufficiency that other Native Americans enjoy.”

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, for whom the legislation is named, had said he would push to pass the bill during the Senate’s lame-duck session, but the chamber has been busy with other matters, including the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.

The legislation passed the U.S. House 245-164 in February but stalled in the Senate, where it failed to get consideration before the November elections. The bill is unlikely to be revisited next year, when Republicans take control of the House.

Last week, Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and John Cornyn of Texas issued a statement in response to reports that the Akaka Bill may be revived by attaching it to separate legislation.

“Legislation as highly complex and divisive as the native Hawaiian bill requires vigorous discussion, debate, and amendments,” Kyl said.”An attempt to include it in unrelated legislation to keep the government operating is a breach of process and is an example of what the American people are tired of — back room deals that are inserted in secret packages written behind closed doors.”

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