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U.S. Senate panel to hear Akaka Bill

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The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act is scheduled to go tomorrow before the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee, whose chairman, Sen. Daniel Akaka, aims to have a vote on the measure.

If favorably reported out of the committee, the bill would be added to the Senate calendar for consideration by the full chamber.

“Providing parity between native Hawaiians and our country’s other indigenous people is a priority,” Akaka, D-Hawaii, said in a statement. “This bill puts native Hawaiians on equal footing with American Indians and Alaska natives and I urge my colleagues to support it.”

Better known as the Akaka Bill after its chief sponsor, the substance of the proposal has never faced a straight up-or-down vote by the Senate.

The bill would create a process for Hawaiians to form their own governing entity and negotiate with federal and state governments on land use and cultural issues. The federal recognition would be similar to that of American Indians and Alaska natives.

If native Hawaiians were recognized, the negotiation process would be established. The bill does not include provisions to allow for gambling, nor does it set forth a process by which Hawaii may secede from the United States, Akaka said. It also does not allow for private land to be taken or for the creation of a reservation in Hawaii, he added.

Akaka, who has announced plans to retire when his term expires next year, introduced the bill in 1999 and has said he hopes to have it pass before he leaves office. He reintroduced the bill last week. It was co-sponsored by Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye and Alaska Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski.

Language in the current version of the bill was proposed by the White House and negotiated between the U.S. Justice Department and Hawaii’s congressional delegation. It passed the Indian Affairs Committee in 2009 but stalled before reaching the Senate floor.

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