Wednesday, March 4, 2009

House committee advances ceded lands bill

HONOLULU – A compromise giving the Legislature final approval over the sale of ceded lands is moving forward, even as the highest court in the land mulls over Native Hawaiians' wishes to keep the land in trust until a new Hawaiian nation can be created.

The House Hawaiian Affairs Committee just approved SB 1677, which unanimously passed the Senate last month. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Clayton Hee, requires a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature before ceded lands can be sold.

Ceded lands are lands once owned by the Hawaiian monarchy but ceded to the state to be held in trust for Hawaiians. Ceded lands comprise 1.2 million acres of land on all Hawaiian islands - about 29 percent of the total land mass of the state and more than 90 percent of state-owned lands.

Attorneys for the state Attorney General’s Office and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs argued their case Feb. 25 before the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s not known when the court will issue an opinion.

The bill has three more committee stops before reaching the House floor.

The Attorney General’s Office urged the committee to amend the bill so that ceded lands sales are treated like other commercial land sales. In those cases, the Legislature has the ability to disapprove a land sale or exchange after the state administration has negotiated to a final offer. The Senate bill, in contrast, requires legislative approval in advance.

“… There does not appear to be a pressing need for this bill,” at all, noted Attorney General Mark Bennett in testimony to the committee.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, on the other hand, believes the bill doesn’t go far enough, but is better than nothing. Numerous testifiers agreed with that philosophy.

“Hawaiian lands were never ceded, they were stole and taken illegally,” said Kelly Anne Beppu, a University of Hawaii graduate student in social work. “By allowing the state of Hawaii to sell these ceded lands, we are teaching our children that it is acceptable to lie, deceive and steal. I know I don’t want my children to grow up in a government that values those things."

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