In the waning days of the current lame-duck congressional session, U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele introduced a bill to lower the blood quantum for successors of Hawaiian Home Lands lessees, making it easier for those on homesteads to pass their land leases and homes on to their children or spouses.

The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1921 requires applicants to prove they have 50% Native Hawaiian blood. It’s a target far higher than what the Hawaii delegation to Congress at the time wanted but one that was settled on as a compromise with the powerful Hawaii sugar industry.

U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele introduced a bill lowering the blood quantum requirement for successors of Hawaiian homesteads. Screenshot/Kai Kahele/YouTube

In remarks on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday, Kahele called that provision a “poison pill, dividing Native Hawaiians. A divide that exists today.”

Kahele’s measure, H.R. 9614, would lower the blood quantum requirement for successors of leases to 1/32, down from one-quarter. However, the original lessee and applicants for the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands waitlist would still need to prove they meet the 50% blood requirement.

The Legislature passed a bill in 2017 kickstarting the process for Congress to amend the act and lower the blood quantum. But progress on the measure has been stalled for years, leaving thousands of families in limbo.

Kahele’s term ends Jan. 3, the same day the new Congress is set to be sworn in. Kahele, a Hawaii Democrat and the only Native Hawaiian in the current Congress, said he hopes the next Congress takes up the blood quantum measure “and that a new generation of Native Hawaiian political leaders in Hawaii will elevate this and he myriad of other issues that continue to suppress and harm the Native Hawaiian community.”

Former state Sen. Jill Tokuda, who voters elected to Kahele’s seat in November, has promised to reintroduce the measure. Kahele did not run for reelection and instead ran unsuccessfully for Hawaii governor.

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