Thursday, February 5, 2009

House Committee unanimously passes “ceded lands” bills

On the same day that Congress reintroduced the Akaka Bill, the House Hawaiian Affairs Committee unanimously passed three separate bills that would place a moratorium on the sale of “ceded lands.”

House Bill 1667, put forward by the Legislative Hawaiian Caucus, proposes to prohibit the Board of Land and Natural Resources from selling, exchanging, or otherwise alienating “ceded lands” in the public land trust.

“I believe there is a fiduciary responsibility of the State to Native Hawaiians,” said Rep. Mele Carroll, who serves as chair of the Hawaiian Affairs Committee and the Legislative Hawaiian Caucus.

House Bill 1667 received an overwhelming amount of support including testimony from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kamehameha Schools, Malama Kaua‘i, Alan Murakami of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, Aha Kiole Advisory Committee, Japanese American Citizens League, Kupa‘aina Coalition, Chairman Kali Watson of Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homelands Assembly, Life of the Land, Royal Order of Kamehameha I, and many community and individual supporters.

Attorney General Mark Bennett, who submitted testimony in opposition to all House bills addressing “ceded lands,” including House Bill 1667, said he feels the purpose of this bill is to deflect a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.” On February 25, the highest court in the United States is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the appeal put forth by Gov. Linda Lingle to reverse the Hawai‘i State Supreme Court’s ruling that the state cannot sell or transfer “ceded lands.”

Committee members had a lengthy discussion with A.G. Mark Bennett, Professor Vandyke and Clyde Namu‘o, Administrator of OHA, airing out the arguments of a moratorium on the sale and transfer of “ceded lands.”

In support of a moratorium on “ceded lands,” University of Hawai‘i constitutional law professor Jon Van Dyke told the Committee that the Legislature indicated the State’s commitment to resolving unsettled land disputes with the Native Hawaiian people when it created OHA in the 1978 Constitutional Convention.

“The bills that you are now considering are what the Supreme Court of Hawai‘i has already said,” Van Dyke said. “All we’re doing is asking this body to reaffirm what is already in the law.”

A.G. Bennett mentioned that if the State of Hawai‘i fails in their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, he anticipates that the state will be dealing lawsuits citing Amendment 14 and the Equal Protection Act.

Any 14th Amendment lawsuit that would arise from a moratorium, as indicated by the Attorney General, was “bewildering,” Van Dyke said.

OHA Administrator Clyde Namuo said, “I find it troubling that we can just discuss this purely at an academic and legal level.” He explained that disregarding the cultural and moral intents of protecting lands part of reconciliation between the State and Native Hawaiians was frustrating.

“When you talk about putting a moratorium on the sale of these ‘ceded lands,’ it doesn’t stop the economic and the legal process from moving forward,” said Kali Watson, former Director of the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. “View it as an interim measure to facilitate a just measure in the near future.”

Mahealani Cypher, President of the Ko‘olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club, said: “We find it almost unbelievable that anyone with any self respect would stand up here and say we shouldn’t pass this law. We urge you to put your minds, hearts, and voices into advocating for justice for the Hawaiian people.” She asks the committee to support this legislation to protect the trust.

At the hearing, Rep. Della Au Bellati acknowledged Rep. Mele Carroll’s leadership in creating a transparent process with the community and in uniting lawmakers on the issue of “ceded lands.”

“The outcome was a victory today,” explains Chair, Rep. Mele Carroll.

The House Hawaiian Affairs Committee voted unanimously with all members present to support the legislation on a moratorium of the sale and transfer of ceded lands that were heard today in the hearing.

Another important measure that passed today included House Bill 1660, which recognizes Hawaiians as the indigenous people of Hawai‘i.

The House Hawaiian Affairs Committee consists of Rep. Mele Carroll (Chair), Rep. Maile Shimabukuro (Vice Chair), Rep. Della Au Bellati, Rep. Joe Bertram III, Rep. Tom Brower, Rep. John Mizuno, Rep. Scott Nishimoto, Rep. Ryan Yamane, and Rep. Gene Ward.

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