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Lingle sends letter to Senators encouraging Akaka Bill

MEDIA RELEASE

Gov. Linda Lingle has sent a letter to all U.S. Senators affirming her strong support of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, also known as the Akaka Bill, and encouraging them to support bringing the bill to a vote in the Senate and to vote to enact it into law.

The Governor sent the letter after reaching an agreement with Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka on changes to the bill (H.R. 2314) that address concerns she had after the Akaka Bill was amended late last year and earlier this year. Those amendments caused Governor Lingle to reluctantly withdraw her support for the bill, despite being a strong proponent of previous versions throughout her almost eight years as Governor.

In March of this year, she sent a letter to the U.S. Senators expressing her concerns about the material changes that had been made to the bill, primarily the exemption of the Native Hawaiian governing entity, its officers and employees, from the reach of many of Hawaii’s state laws that protect the health and safety of Hawaii’s citizens.

In the letter sent, Lingle said the agreed upon changes to the bill between her and Sens. Inouye and Akaka “return the bill to a form that protects health and safety in Hawaii, while providing explicit federal recognition to the only native people in the United States who lack that recognition – Native Hawaiians.”

The governor also wrote that passage of the Akaka Bill will, “put Hawaii on an equal footing with its forty-nine sister states, and will recognize Native Hawaiians just as America recognizes it other indigenous groups. It is fair and just – nothing more, nothing less.”

Lingle’s letter also said, “The Akaka Bill 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, and is just and fair.”

The full text of Lingle’s letter:

The Honorable Lamar Alexander
United States Senate
455 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Re:Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, 1T.R. 2314,the “Akaka Bill”

Dear Senator Alexander,

I wrote to you and your Senate colleagues on March 23, 2010, reluctantly expressing my opposition to H.R. 2314, the “Akaka Bill,” that would afford federal recognition to Native Hawaiians. My opposition followed years of strong and active support of previous versions of the bill during my almost eight years as Hawaii’s Governor. Substantial differences between prior versions of the bill I had previously supported and the bill that passed the House justified that opposition.

The primary reason for that opposition, as I expressed to you in my letter, was the exemption of the Native Hawaiian governing entity, and its officers and employees, from the reach of many of the laws of the State of Hawaii that protect the health and safety of Hawaii’s citizens.

After discussions between our Attorney General and Senate staff. Hawaii’s Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka have agreed to and will propose to the Senate changes to H.R. 2314, that address the concerns I raised.

The agreed upon changes are as follows. First, the bill will now explicitly provide that activities of the Native Hawaiian governing entity will be fully subject to all of the State’s laws that protect the public health and safety (unless and until the State agrees otherwise or the Congress decides otherwise). Second, the bill gives the State the explicit authority to sue the Native Hawaiian governing entity to enforce the regulatory authority recognized in the bill. And third, the bill explicitly provides that officers and employees of the Native Hawaiian governing entity shall have no immunity from the criminal laws of the State. (The bill had already provided that members of the entity remained fully subject to the State’s criminal laws).

I believe these provisions return the bill to a form that protects health and safety in Hawaii, while providing explicit federal recognition to the only native people in the United States who lack that recognition — Native Hawaiians.

As I and my administration have said in previous communications to the Congress, 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. It will, however, put Hawaii on an equal footing with its forty-nine sister states, and it will recognize Native Hawaiians just as America recognizes its other indigenous groups. It is fair and just — nothing more, and nothing less.

I believe that the Akaka Bill is constitutional, is good public policy, is (in its to-be-amended form) supported by Hawaii’s citizens, is consistent with the Congress’s approach to recognition of the other native peoples of America, and is just and fair. I strongly support it, and I respectfully urge you to support bringing it to a vote in the Senate, and then to vote to enact it into law. I thank you very much for your consideration of this letter.

Very truly yours,
LINDA LINGLE
Governor, State of Hawaii

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