The embattled Akaka Bill stands little chance of seeing new life this year, despite two endorsements from the Obama administration.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar sent a letter Thursday to Sens. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, endorsing the Akaka Bill.
Jesse Broder Van Dyke, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, said if the bill can be introduced in the Senate first, it would be in the form of the House version that passed 245-164 in February, and it would be amended with compromises reached with former Gov. Linda Lingle.
"However, we’re getting toward the end of the year, and the Senate failed to pass a bunch of measures this week," Van Dyke said yesterday.
Those measures included a bill that also would have repealed the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy for gays in the military, as well as a health and compensation bill for workers who were at Ground Zero of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.
"The Senate hasn’t been able to do much while this tax cut debate is raging," Van Dyke said, referring to President Barack Obama’s deal with Republicans to continue Bush-era tax cuts and other provisions.
When asked what Akaka’s plan for the bill might be next year, Van Dyke said the office is "still focused" on 2010.
The bill would establish a process for native Hawaiians to form a governing entity and negotiate with federal and state governments on land use and cultural issues. The compromise reached with Lingle would preserve the state’s regulatory power over public health and safety during negotiations.
The bill was introduced in 1999 and has been before Congress through three administrations.
"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 from Holder and Salazar 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."
Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Walter Heen said Thursday’s endorsements will likely not matter in the long run, with Republicans taking control of the House and increasing their ranks in the Senate.
"Let me put it succinctly: If they can’t get ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ through, how much importance are the Republicans going to place on getting our bill through?" Heen said. "I maintain that the (Akaka) bill has been dead for some time now."
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 might be revived by attaching it to other 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."