The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization bill passed out of the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee by voice vote today, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka’s office said.
It now gets placed on the Senate calendar for consideration by the full chamber.
The bill reached a similar point in the legislative process last year, but stalled as the Senate debated weightier matters such as health care reform and the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy toward gays in the military.
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.
"Over the years, we have had extensive hearings on this issue — all stakeholders have had an opportunity to present their views, and we have strengthened our bill with their input," Akaka said in remarks prepared for the meeting. "Now is the time to move this legislation forward."
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.
A companion bill has been introduced in the House.