WASHINGTON — The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will take up the namesake legislation of retiring Chair Daniel Akaka in his final attempt to advance the cause of Native Hawaiian government that will be his legacy.
The committee has scheduled a “markup” for Thursday afternoon so Akaka can streamline what had been roughly a 60-page package into a 15-page proposal he hopes will be easier for colleagues to pass, even if it happens after he’s gone, according to Akaka spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke.
The existing version of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act includes a lengthy section that would set up a roll, determine who qualifies as Native Hawaiian and require action from the Secretary of the Interior.
But the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission authorized by the Hawaii Legislature last year is now up and running, eliminating the need for the federal government to get involved in that step. The amended version of the bill Akaka will push Thursday would acknowledge the state’s Roll Commission.
Removing that piece from the bill, the thinking goes, would make the measure less controversial and easier to pass because there won’t be any debate over who qualifies.
That hardly guarantees passage, however.
The September session here in Washington, which just started in earnest Tuesday, is expected to be brief. With Democrats and Republicans moving toward a continuing resolution that would fund the federal government for six months, lawmakers could be back on the campaign trail within a couple of weeks.
That would leave only the lame-duck session between the Nov. 6 general election and the seating of the 113th Congress in January. The lame-duck session would be Akaka’s final chance to pass the bill before he’s replaced by either Democrat Mazie Hirono or Republican Linda Lingle. Majority Leader Harry Reid has lots of other things on his plate and a less-than-fully-compliant minority opposition to deal with.
Asked about the odds of passing the Akaka Bill in a lame-duck session, Broder Van Dyke said his boss intends to keep pushing for equity for Native Hawaiians as long as he can.
“Sen. Akaka is going to do everything he can every day he’s in the Senate,” Broder Van Dyke said at his office Tuesday. “He’s not going to give up.”
The main goal is to pass the bill soon, but the streamlining has the added benefit of making it easier for others to pick up the ball and run with it after Akaka is gone.
“In the event that the bill is not considered by the Senate this year, this is the version of the bill that Sen. Akaka will continue to advocate for,” Broder Van Dyke said.
Hirono has been supportive in the past, while Lingle was previously open to the idea before she undermined a previous effort when she was governor after the bill was changed at the last minute.
UPDATE: “I am very pleased to learn that the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has scheduled a ‘markup’ of the Akaka Bill in an effort to move this very important legislation forward. This would be a great testament to Senator Dan Akaka’s service to our state,” Lingle said in an emailed statement from her campaign Tuesday night.
“I have been consistent and unwavering in my support for federal recognition for native Hawaiians. I personally traveled to Washington, D.C. on several occasions to attract bipartisan Senatorial support by convincing key Senators to become co-sponsors of the Akaka Bill, and was successful in ensuring that Senator John McCain (then‐Chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs) scheduled committee hearings, where I offered testimony in support of the bill. These hearings helped the bill pass out of committee but, unfortunately it did not have enough votes to pass the full Senate.
“If elected as the next U.S. Senator from Hawaii, I will devote myself to assuring native Hawaiian recognition by convincing my Republican colleagues to do the right thing and vote in favor of this important legislation. Our lack of a Republican Senator is one of the primary reasons the Akaka Bill has not passed.”
Hirono’s campaign provided a statement thanking Akaka for his “moral leadership, legislative guidance, and unwavering support of Native Hawaiian recognition.”
“After the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act is marked up this Thursday, I hope the critical measure will be brought to the Senate floor for approval before the end of the year,” Hirono said in the emailed statement.
“I have long supported the Akaka Bill, and since being elected to Congress, I have been a strong advocate of the bill in the U.S. House. In the current 112th Congress, I proudly introduced the House version of the bill. We must continue to fight for federal recognition of Native Hawaiians.”
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