UPDATE: Lingle Asks U.S. Senators to Pass Akaka Bill
Making good on her promise last week to support the amended Native Hawaiian government bill, the governor encourages the Senate to bring the measure to a floor vote. But a vote still hasn't been scheduled, and Congress is swamped with pressing business before the August recess and fall election.
In a letter dated July 13 and sent to all 100 U.S. senators, Hawaii Gov. Lingle says passage of the bill will, “put Hawaii on an equal footing with its forty-nine sister states, and will recognize Native Hawaiians just as America recognizes its other indigenous groups. It is fair and just — nothing more, nothing less.”
Lingle’s letter effectively nullifies a letter the governor sent to senators March 23 asking them to oppose the Akaka bill. At that time, Lingle had withdrawn her support of the Akaka bill after disagreeing with changes made by federal lawmakers late last year and earlier this year.
Those changes were amended to Lingle’s satisfaction last week, when she and Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett threw their support behind a new version of the Akaka bill that satisfied concerns about health and public safety.
Seeking to allay other worries about the bill, Lingle wrote in her July 13 letter, “Native Hawaiians have fought and died for this country in wars dating back almost 100 years. They fight today for this country in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Akaka Bill will not change the patriotism or valor of Native Hawaiians. It will not set up a foreign nation in Hawaii.”
Lingle’s office announced her letter of support Tuesday. The letter includes an attachment containing the new amendment.
Lingle wrote that the bill, called the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, “is constitutional, is good public policy, is (in its to-be-amended form) supported by Hawaii’s citizens, is consistent with Congress’ approach to recognition of other native peoples of America…”
Lingle’s support is likely to help persuade some Republicans to vote for the Akaka bill, because it demonstrates broad bipartisan consensus from Hawaii officials.
Senate Has Full Agenda
Whether Lingle’s action comes in time is another question.
H.R. 2314, as the bill is known, has not been formally amended, and a Senate vote still had not been scheduled as of Tuesday, according to a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Akaka spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke told Civil Beat Tuesday he had “no update on floor time at this point.” He acknowledged that the Senate had “a lot already on the agenda,” including Wall Street reform, extension of unemployment benefits, climate change, the campaign-finance reform measure know as the DISCLOSE Act, and the nomination of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Inouye, Reid and other top Senate Democrats [met Tuesday]((http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/108317-obama-to-huddle-with-top-senate-dems-on-plans-before-recess) with President Obama at the White House to discuss the Senate’s legislative agenda. In addition to the Senate business noted by Broder Van Dyke, The Hill said Obama may also want action on immigration reform legislation and ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia before November.
Roll Call said Tuesday that a similar meeting was scheduled between Obama and House Democrats today.
House Vote Also Required
Even if the Senate passes the amended Akaka bill, it would have to go back to the House for another vote. While the bill has easily passed earlier House votes, an urgency is added this year because of the recent development that Republicans could win back control of the chamber in November.
According to its 2010 calendar, the Senate is scheduled to recess Aug. 9 and return to business Sept. 13. Inouye said last week he was informed the Senate would cut short the recess by at least one week.
Inouye also warned that budget matters would likely consume the Senate’s attention in September, and running for re-election would be the priority come October.
“Time is of the essence” for the Akaka bill, he said.
Broder Van Dyke told Civil Beat last week that a vote could also happen during the lame-duck period between the election and the sweating in of the 112th Congress in early January.