GOVERNOR LINGLE ASKS U.S. SENATORS TO REJECT CURRENT VERSION OF AKAKA BILL
Pledges to Continue to Work with Hawai‘i Congressional Delegation to Amend Legislation
LINK >>> FULL TEXT OF LETTERS
LINK>>> OHA RESPONSE
HONOLULU – Governor Linda Lingle, who has always supported federal recognition for native Hawaiians through the Akaka Bill until material changes were made late last year that are not in the best interest of the state, said today she continues to hold out hope that the bill can be amended to a version that she can support.
However, until amendments are made, Governor Lingle is asking all U.S. Senators to reject the bill in its current form. In a letter she sent to Senators yesterday, the Governor outlined her opposition to the changes that were made to the Akaka Bill late last year and earlier this year.
“I am saddened that I must now strongly oppose this legislation, as I have strongly advocated for Native Hawaiian recognition throughout my time in office. But as Hawai‘i’s Governor it is my responsibility to ask you to reject this bill in its current form,” the Governor wrote to the U.S. Senators.
“This is a most difficult position for me to take because I continue to believe that federal recognition for Native Hawaiians, akin to federal recognition for American Indians and Alaska Natives, is the just and right thing to do,” the Governor said in the letter.
The letter noted that the prior version of the bill set up a process of recognition first, establishment of a Native Hawaiian governing entity, followed by negotiations between the entity, the United States, and the State, concerning, among other things, the powers to be exercised by the entity and the assets, including land, to be transferred to the entity.
The Governor explained to the Senators that she opposes the current bill because it vests the entity almost immediately with broad and ill-defined powers. The bill also explicitly exempts the activities of the entity, and its officers and employees from almost all regulation by the State and the counties, no matter how important the regulations are to the health, safety, and interests of the public.
The Governor’s letter stated, “The explicit sovereign immunity and exemption from regulation provisions in the present bill allow the Native Hawaiian governing entity, and its leaders, to conduct activities anywhere in Hawai‘i (and potentially any other state) in a way that is inconsistent with State criminal statutes otherwise applicable to all citizens, and state laws governing narcotics and dangerous drugs; civil defense; alcohol and tobacco; fire and building codes necessary for public safety; traffic safety; landlord-tenant matters; clean air, clean water, hazardous waste (and other state pollution statutes); child welfare, child protection, and child safety; public health; food and drugs; and virtually every other conceivable law that serves to protect the public. It is not clear how the State could enforce its interests against unlawful or irresponsible actions by the governing entity or its elected leaders or employees."
In addition, although the bill still prohibits the entity from gambling, the bill strips the State of any direct and effective means of enforcing the anti-gambling provision in court.
Governor Lingle and Attorney General Mark Bennett proposed amendments to give the State the power to regulate when public health and safety were involved, to give the State an effective means of enforcing the anti-gambling provision, and to make certain that no person would be exempted or immune from any of the State's criminal statutes.
The amendments were rejected, and as the Governor’s letter states, “the gap between what is acceptable to the State and what has been offered to the State remains wide and deep. It is fair to say that these negotiations have reached an impasse.”
“It is with great sadness that I oppose the current version of the Akaka Bill, but I believe passage is not in the best interests of Hawai‘i or our people,” said Governor Lingle. “I still stand willing to work with the Hawai‘i Congressional delegation to craft a bill I can support.”
Attached to the Governor’s letter were three editorials: