Governor Opposes Native Hawaiian Tribal Rights Bill; Lingle Not Alerted to Changes

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 5, 2010 | Go to article overview

Governor Opposes Native Hawaiian Tribal Rights Bill; Lingle Not Alerted to Changes


Byline: Valerie Richardson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The next time President Obama vacations in his native Hawaii, there could be something new on the island: an Indian tribe.

Two weeks ago, House and Senate committees approved the Native Hawaiian Reorganization Act, which would create a separate government for Native Hawaiians. The legislation, better known as the Akaka bill after its sponsor, Democratic Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, originally stated that the new government's authority would be decided in negotiations with state and federal authorities.

At the last minute, however, Hawaii Democrats, working with the Justice and Interior departments, amended the bill to establish the Native Hawaiian governing entity as a sovereign Indian tribe.

The move ignited a furor in Honolulu. Gov. Linda Lingle and Attorney General Mark Bennett, who found out about the changes just hours before the Dec. 16 House vote, promptly reversed their support for the bill, saying the revisions could endanger Hawaii's economic and legal standing. Both officials are Republicans.

The new bill explicitly states that it gives the state of Hawaii no authority to tax or regulate the new tribe, while ambiguously stating that nothing in the bill will itself pre-empt state authority over Native Hawaiians or their property, said Mr. Bennett in a statement. Such a provision would guarantee years, if not decades, of litigation.

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, the state's senior Democratic senator, told local reporters in Honolulu last week that differences were being ironed out with the governor's office and predicted the Senate would vote on the amended bill in February. But to date, no final deal has been announced.

One problem is that a Native Hawaiian tribe's lands are likely to be far more vast and valuable than those of the average North American tribe on the mainland. Nobody knows exactly how much property would go to the new government - that would be settled in negotiations - but it could be as much as 40 percent of the state's land mass.

That property, known as the ceded lands, is spread throughout the state, and includes some of Hawaii's prime tourist destinations and military installations, such as Pearl Harbor. The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii and Beacon Hill Institute estimate that the Akaka bill would cost the state $689.7 million annually in lost state tax and land-lease revenues, not including the additional cost of setting up the new governing entity.

Supporters argue that Native Hawaiians need their own government in order to address the community's long-standing problems. Surveys show the average income and educational achievement of Native Hawaiians tends to be lower than that of other state residents. …

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