Congresswoman Mazie K. Hirono reintroduced the Kalaupapa Memorial Act, H.R. 410, this past Friday. Although the bill passed the House in February 2008, it did not pass the Senate prior to the conclusion of the 110th Congress. Fortunately, the language of the House-approved Kalaupapa Memorial Act has been incorporated into a recently introduced Senate bill, S.22, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which includes 160 pieces of legislation that were held up due to the narrow party margins in the Senate of the 110th Congress. Yesterday, the Senate held a rare Sunday vote where a strong majority (66-12) voted to move forward with the bill.
"It now appears likely that the Senate will approve S. 22 sometime this week," said Hirono, "which means that the Kalaupapa Memorial Act is well on its way to becoming law. I want to especially thank Senator Daniel Akaka, who introduced the Senate companion and worked to get the bill included in the omnibus Senate legislation."
If S. 22 passes the Senate this week, the House will likely consider the bill the week after the presidential inauguration or shortly thereafter. The Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee has indicated no further committee action will be required.
Congresswoman Hirono's bill establishes a memorial within the Kalaupapa National Historical Park on the island of Molokai to honor and perpetuate the memory of those Hansen Disease patients who were forcibly relocated to the Kalaupapa Peninsula from 1866 to 1969. Of the approximately 8,000 former patients buried in Kalaupapa, only some 1,300 have marked graves.
"I have met with the elderly residents of Kalaupapa," said Hirono. "Many have expressed a strong desire to know that the memorial will be built in their lifetimes. I have also read the heartfelt and compelling testimony submitted by current patients and family members of former patients who want to make sure the story of Kalaupapa is not only told, but that the patients are recognized as individuals by having the names of each of those exiled to Kalaupapa and buried there recorded for posterity."