[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] on Thursday rejected a bill that would have given Native Hawaiians self-governance powers [JURIST report] in line with those accorded to Native Americans. The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act [S 147 summary; Akaka backgrounder] was rejected by a margin of 56-41 [roll call] in a procedural vote Thursday, falling short of the necessary 60 votes to proceed with a final vote on the bill. The bill sponsor, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) [official website], promoted the bill for seven years and vowed to re-introduce the bill in another congressional session [Honolulu Advertiser report]. Akaka said the bill was meant to remedy the wrongs that have persisted since the 1893 US-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy [Wikipedia backgrounder], in the hopes that self-governance would help increase federal funding for more targeted services for Native Hawaiians. The bill would have allowed Native Hawaiians to form a body to negotiate with state and federal governments over issues relating to Hawaii, including historical grievances, and control of natural resources, land and assets. Though disappointed by the Senate rejection, Akaka expressed gratitude [press release] for the support the bill gained in the Senate vote.
Opponents of the bill thought it created an unconstitutional race-based government entity, and would "discriminate on the basis of race of race or national origin and further subdivide the American people into discrete groups," according to a report [text] by the US Commission on Civil Rights [official website]. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) [official website] added that he could "not support a bill whose very purpose is to divide Americans based upon race," and the US Justice Department stated in a letter to Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) [official website] Wednesday that the Bush administration "strongly opposes" [Hawaii Reporter text] the bill because it would create a race division. The Akaka bill was scheduled for debate last August, but was delayed at the last minute [JURIST report]. Insidebayarea.com has more.