House Unveils Tax Reform Package: GWE Included

House Unveils Tax Reform Package: GWE Included

Yesterday, February 26th, Congressman Dave Camp, Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee (which has primary jurisdiction over federal taxation legislation) released a draft of his comprehensive proposals to reform the tax code. The draft bill would simplify the tax code by eliminating a number of tax credits, cutting income tax brackets from seven to three, and removing many tax deductions and exemptions.

For Indian Country, the draft bill contains most of the provisions included in the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act (H.R. 3043 and S. 1507), which would clarify that benefits received by tribal members pursuant to tribal government programs and services are not subject to federal income taxation. It would also require education of IRS agents before acting on Indian lands, and it would establish a much needed Tribal Advisory Committee within the Treasury Department to weigh in on federal tax policy. However, several provisions of the GWE Act were left out of the draft tax reform bill, and a repeal of the accelerated depreciation and Indian employment tax credits was added to the proposal.

Senator Tester Appointed Chair of Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

Senator Tester Appointed Chair of Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

The U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nomination of Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) to serve as the U.S. ambassador to China. Baucus’ confirmation set off a series of seat changes among the leadership of four key Senate Committees.

* Most importantly to Indian Country, Senator John Tester (D-MT) will take over as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA). Tester has been a very active Member of the SCIA, and many expect him to be a hands on Chairman of the Committee.

In addition to Senator Tester taking the SCIA Chair, several other committees were impacted:

* Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) takes over as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has exclusive jurisdiction over tax issues;

* Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) takes the gavel of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal lands legislation and other issues of importance to Indian Country; and

* former SCIA Chair Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) moves to lead the Senate Committee on Small Business, which has jurisdiction over the Native 8(a) program and other related issues.

SCIA Holds Oversight Hearing on Indian Law and Order Commission Report

SCIA Holds Oversight Hearing on Indian Law and Order Commission Report

On Wednesday, February 12th, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) held an oversight hearing to examine the November 2013 Report of the Indian Law and Order Commission (ILOC), which made 40 sweeping recommendations to change Federal regulations and laws to improve public safety and justice in Indian Country. The hearing focused on the recommendations to streamline tribal public safety and justice funding by shifting federal law enforcement services and programs from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to the Department of Justice (DOJ). Questions also focused on the need to reduce the number of Native youth in the federal criminal justice system, and the need to address the dire violent crime problem facing Alaska Native villages.

Federal officials did not directly address the ILOC Recommendations, noting that they plan to consult with tribes first. Federal officials did discuss several pilot programs that they are conducting to address crime. Assistant Secretary Washburn highlighted the BIA’s High Priority Performance Goal program, noting that its focus will shift from reducing crime rates to reducing recidivism. U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon, testifying for DOJ, discussed a variety of U.S. Attorney outreach programs that are working to bring the federal justice system to Indian Country, including mentoring Native youth, and working tribal prosecutors to handle federal cases locally.

The second panel of witnesses testified that the ILOC offers common sense recommendations that will streamline funding and services, and bring justice to Indian Country where the local control works to legitimize the justice system. ILOC Chairman, Troy Eid, stated, “The federal system and the PL 280 system are not working. In America, local justice is what we all trust. Local control and self-government are the goals. Indian Nations must be able to develop the system that works best for their own communities.”

The hearing was Senator Cantwell’s last as Chair of the Indian Affairs Committee. Senator Jon Tester takes over as the next Chairman of the SCIA, as Chairwoman Cantwell moves to lead the Senate Small Business Committee.

Sportsmen’s Package Passed House with Tribal Treaty Amendment on Feb. 5th; Similar Legislation Introduced in the Senate

Sportsmen’s Package Passed House with Tribal Treaty Amendment on Feb. 5th; Similar Legislation Introduced in the Senate

On February 5th, H.R. 3590, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational (SHARE) Act, passed the House by a vote of 268-154. The bill passed with the inclusion of a manager’s amendment of Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), which included language to protect tribal treaty rights on federal lands (specifically BLM and Forest Service Lands). The amendment as enacted stated: “Nothing in this Act or the amendments made by this Act shall be construed to affect or modify any treaty or other right of any federally recognized Indian tribe.”

The Senate has its own version of the Sportsmen’s package, introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC). The bi-partisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 (S. 1335) includes 12 bills addressing outdoor recreation and land use. Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mark Begich (D-AK), John Boozman (R-AR), Dean Heller (R-NV), John Hoeven (R-ND), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Rob Portman (R-OH), Jon Tester (D-MT) and David Vitter (R-LA) have cosponsored the Senate bill. Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and John Thune (R-SD) introduced a similar bill, S. 3525, in the previous 112th Congress.

Congress Set to Pass the Farm Bill

Congress Set to Pass the Farm Bill

After months of negotiations, the House and Senate Farm Bill Conference Committee finally produced a compromise Farm Bill to reauthorize agricultural programs through 2018. Last Congress, the House and Senate were unable to compromise on a bill and had to settle for an extension of the existing 2008 Farm Bill. However, this extension had expired at the end of September putting pressure on lawmakers to complete a new Farm Bill before a new planting season. In fact, several key provisions including the dairy program had technically reverted to the 1949 law which could have resulted in the doubling of prices. However, the Department of agriculture had not enforced this law while the agreement was worked out.

On Wednesday, January 29th, the House passed the bill by a vote of 251-166 with support from both Republicans and Democrats. A majority of Democrats still opposed the bill due to the cuts to the SNAP while some 60 Republicans opposed due to their belief that the Bill spends too much money. The Senate will begin consideration of the bill on Monday, February 3rd and is expected to pass the bill in the next several days.