The Akaka bill could receive a hearing as early as this month, Sens. Daniel K. Inouye and Daniel Akaka said today.

The bill’s chances may be bolstered by the support of Gov. Linda Lingle, who has agreed to new amendments that satisfy her concerns about the Native Hawaiian recognition bill. The governor issued a news release on the agreement today.

The two amendments, said Inouye, were drafted by Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett.

Inouye called the changes “slight changes” that in broad terms would mean the laws of Hawaii will apply to a Native Hawaiian governing entity. Any amendment approved by the Senate would require another vote by the House, which has already approved the current version of the bill.

Lingle’s support was welcomed by the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs. In a press release issued Wednesday afternoon, OHA said, “The changes clarify that the state laws — as well as health and safety regulations — will apply throughout the negotiation process between the Native Hawaiian governing entity, the State of Hawaii and the U.S. government to determine powers and authorities among the three governing entities.”

Lingle, who long supported the Akaka bill, changed her position once the bill was amended in December. She expressed concern about the possibility of a split society should the Akaka bill become law.

Lingle urged lawmakers not to approve the amended bill, arguing that a Hawaiian governing entity could be “almost completely free from state and county regulation” and may have “almost complete sovereign immunity from lawsuits.”

“We have supported a bill that would set up a process of recognition first, followed by negotiations between the Native Hawaiian governing entity, the State of Hawai‘i, and the United States,” she said in a news release at that time. “Once that was completed, it would be followed by the Native Hawaiian governing entity’s exercise of governmental powers and authorities. Amendments made to the bill in December 2009 turned that process around. The current bill establishes that the Native Hawaiian governing entity would start with broad governmental powers and authorities, with negotiations to follow.”

Inouye and Akaka said the vote on the revised Akaka Bill could happen as early as this month before the Senate’s long August recess. Inouye said he was just informed today that the recess would be cut short by one week because of pressing Senate business.

“Time is of the essence,” said Inouye, saying the bill would likely not be voted on in September because the Senate will be focused on appropriations. The accounting period for the federal government ends Sept. 30. October is out of the question because of the Nov. 2 election, he said.

The amendment will make changes to Section 9 of the bill, according to a news release from Akaka’s office. “The changes will ensure that during the interim period the Native Hawaiian governing entity will be subject to the state’s regulatory authority affecting public health and safety, until a temporary agreement is reached between the entity and state and approved by the Secretary of the Interior. It will also make clear that the Native Hawaiian governing entity’s officers and employees will not be immune from the state’s criminal laws.”

In a separate comment through his spokesman, Akaka said a vote could happen later this year, even during the lame-duck period before a new Congress is sworn in in January.

The spokesman said Akaka was in discussions with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and that he remained optimistic he had the 60 votes necessary for cloture to kill any Republican filibuster.

Inouye said he believed there was sufficient support for the bill’s passage, and that congressional leadership could reconcile any difference.

But he also noted that partisanship in Congress “is rampant,” suggesting that a floor vote could be challenging.

“The governor has been a supporter of the bill and we would love to have her support,” said the spokesman. “We continue to work with her office and are trying to bring everyone together.”

The spokesman declined to discuss any possible changes in the bill.

Inouye said he would be talking with the White House tomorrow about the bill. He said he hoped Lingle would issue a letter of support for the bill to congressional Republicans “so that we can move ahead.”

A spokesman for Lingle confirmed Sen. Inouye’s remarks and said the governor would be writing letters to both parties in Congress. He deferred questions about the amendments to Bennett.

Inouye and Akaka are expected to return to Washington over the weekend following the recess over the July 4 holidays.

Inouye said it could take 2-3 days to deal with the bill but did not specify whether that included floor debate. He said he was “glad we were able to come to an understanding,” referring to the governor and the attorney general.

“I think we are on our way,” said Inouye when asked if the bill was progressing.

“We are very pleased that the clarifications being made will allow all of us to move forward, in the Senate, on what we expect will be swift passage of this landmark bill,” said Haunani Apoliona, OHA chairperson.

“Upon successful passage of the bill, OHA stands ready to facilitate an open, fair, democratic and inclusive process in which a Native Hawaiian governing entity will be reorganized — by, and for, Native Hawaiians,” said Clyde Namuo, OHA’s chief executive officer.

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