January 17th, 2018 – Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing on Agribusiness in Indian Country

January 17th, 2018 – Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing on Agribusiness in Indian Country

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (Committee) has scheduled an oversight hearing to take place on Wednesday, January 17th titled, “Breaking New Ground in Agribusiness Opportunities in Indian Country”. The hearing will take place at 2:30 p.m. EST in Room 628 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.

Witnesses for live testimony are by invitation only, and a list will be posted on the Committee’s website once confirmed. The record will be open for two weeks following the hearing for written comments and a webcast of this hearing will be available on the scheduled hearing date on the Committee website. For more information about the hearing or the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, please visit: http://www.indian.senate.gov/.

December 14th, 2017 – House Financial Services Committee: NAHASDA Reauthorization Markup Recap

House Financial Services Committee: NAHASDA Reauthorization Markup Recap

On Wednesday, December 13th, the House Financial Services Committee (“Committee”) voted on Rep. Pearce’s substitute amendment to H.R. 3864, the NAHASDA Reauthorization, that deleted the Native Hawaiian housing provisions from the bill. The initial bill as introduced had 12 bipartisan co-sponsors.

The Committee rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) to restore the Native Hawaiian provisions to the bill. Her amendment failed on a party line vote of 24-32 (all Democrats voting in favor, and all Republicans voting against)(4 members did not vote).

The Committee then advanced the Pearce substitute amendment by a vote of 37-22. Reps. Delaney (D-MD), Heck (D-WA), and Sinema (D-AZ) joined the 34 Republicans on the Committee voting in favor of Pearce’s substitute amendment.

The Committee will file the bill report on H.R. 3864 as amended and it will then be eligible for a vote on the floor by the entire House. The two-day markup lasted more than 8 hours.

Below is a brief recap of the debate on the bill and the Moore amendment.

Rep Moore spoke passionately about the need for her amendment to restore the Native Hawaiian housing provisions. She stated that she appreciated the work of Rep. Pearce and the bipartisan effort that was put into the initial bill as introduced, noting that it properly acknowledges all Native peoples. She argued that the Native Hawaiian housing program was initially enacted to help better implement the Hawaiian Homelands Commission Act of 1920 to help the indigenous peoples of Hawaii, and cited Morton v. Mancari noting that federal programs that benefit Native peoples are not racially based. She finally reasoned that the Supreme Court’s Rice v. Cayetano decision did not undo the Hawaiian Homelands Commission Act, but instead was related to voting rights and the 15th Amendment.

Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) spoke to the substitute bill. He acknowledged that the Native Hawaiians housing provisions are contentious, but he said that NAHASDA is about treaty rights and the U.S. trust obligations to Native Americans. He said that Indian Country needs an additional 68,000 housing units are needed to replace inadequate units and build new units to eliminate overcrowding. “The substitute amendment erodes the bipartisan effort and makes final passage more difficult.” Heck concluded by saying that he hopes restore a bipartisan effort as the bill moves to the floor.

Ranking Member Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) spoke in opposition to H.R. 3864 as amended. However, a good portion of her remarks targeted President Trump’s actions towards Indian Country. “I am deeply disappointed in President Trump who has shown utter disrespect for Native Americans, ignoring protests by Indian tribes and approving the Keystone Pipeline potentially subjecting them to hazardous, he used a racial slur disparaging Native Americans at an event intended to honor veterans, he slashed the size of two National Monuments which include sacred Native sites to appease uranium mining companies, and his FY18 budget request would have significantly reduced funding for Native housing.”

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM), the bill’s sponsor, stated that he cannot support the Moore amendment, arguing that removing the Native Hawaiian housing provisions from the bill is necessary to keep the legislation moving forward.

Rep. Sean Duffy spoke in opposition to the Moore amendment, stating that if approved it would tank the NAHASDA Reauthorization, reasoning that Native Hawaiians are not Indian tribes recognized by the BIA. He recognized the importance of NAHASDA to Indian Country, noting that former Democrat Committee Chair Barney Frank (D-MA) separated the Native Hawaiian housing provisions from a previous reauthorization. (Note: Duffy failed to acknowledge that the House of Representatives voted on a similar NAHASDA Reauthorization that included Native Hawaiian housing provisions by a vote of 297-98 in the 114th Congress-with 128 Republicans voting yes on the bill).

Rep. Davidson (R-OH) also voiced concerns with the Moore amendment. “I’m concerned that the Moore amendment undermines the spirit of the Supreme Court’s Rice v. Cayetano decision. It could be the first step towards creating an extra-Constitutional race based government program.”

Finally, Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), who urged Pearce to strip the Native Hawaiian provisions, spoke against the Moore amendment, stating “the amendment is contentious, and should it be accepted, this bill will not make it to the House floor.” He too cited the Supreme Court’s Rice v. Cayetano decision as rationale for his opposition to the Native Hawaiian housing provisions, claiming that the provisions represent an unconstitutional set-aside.

December 8th, 2017 – Congress Passes Continuing Resolution to Fund Federal Government Through December 22nd

Congress Passes Continuing Resolution to Fund Federal Government Through December 22nd

On the afternoon of December 7th, the House passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government through December 22nd by a vote of 235-193, and the Senate quickly followed by passing the CR 81-14. Congress will now have another two weeks to try to come to an agreement to fund the government through FY 2018, as well as decide on a number of policy issues that Republicans and Democrats would like to see included in a final bill.

Although Republicans control the House and Senate, they will need at least 8 Democratic Senators to support a final bill giving Democrats some leverage on spending levels and on policy issues. Outstanding issues include overall spending levels for both defense and non-defense discretionary programs (which includes BIA and IHS), funding for a border wall, defunding Planned Parenthood, resolution of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) issue, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which could also include funding for the Special Diabetes Program for Indians, and healthcare legislation to address the individual insurance marketplace. Complicating the differences between Republicans and Democrats on all of these issues are also the competing priorities of different factions of Republicans.

It remains unclear if Congress will be able to resolve all or any of these issues by December 22nd, setting up another possible government shutdown or more likely another CR into January, 2018.

October 4th, 2017 – Senate Committee on Indian Affairs adds Business Meeting to consider Johnson-O’Malley Legislation

October 4th, 2017 – Senate Committee on Indian Affairs adds Business Meeting to consider Johnson-O’Malley Legislation

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (Committee) has added a business meeting to its schedule this week to consider S. 943, the Johnson-O’Malley Supplemental Indian Education Program Modernization Act. The bill was introduced by Committee Member, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), in late April and is cosponsored by fellow Committee Members, Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Steve Daines (R-MT).

S. 943 requires the Department of the Interior (Interior) to provide an updated and continuing count of eligible Indian students for the Johnson-O’Malley Program (JOM Program) to ensure full participation of all qualified students. The JOM Program awards contracts to support the cultural and academic needs of Native American students. The bill states that Interior will consult with tribes, state and local education agencies that have not participated in the JOM Program to expand the number of eligible Native American students served. It also states that Interior will determine whether the JOM Program funding formula and eligibility requirements should be updated to ensure the maximum number of eligible Native American students.

The business meeting will take place tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 pm (EST) in Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington D.C. Immediately following the markup consideration, the Committee will conduct its oversight hearing on Indian gaming. An updated list of witnesses for the oversight hearing has been posted to the Committee website and includes the following:

Panel 1:
• The Honorable Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri, Chairman, National Indian Gaming Commission, Washington, DC; and
• Mr. John Tahsuda III, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs, Interior, Washington, DC.

Panel 2:
• The Honorable Keeny Escalanti, President, Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe, Yuma, AZ;
• The Honorable Harold “Gus” Frank, Chairman, Forest County Potawatomi, Crandon, WI; and
• Mr. Ernest L. Stevens, Jr., Chairman, National Indian Gaming Association.

A webcast of the hearing will be available immediately after the conclusion of the business meeting on the Committee website. For more information about the hearing, business meeting or Committee, please visit: https://www.indian.senate.gov.

October 4th, 2017 – Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing on Indian Gaming

October 4th, 2017 – Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing on Indian Gaming

February 25, 2017 marked the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s California v. Cabazon decision, and October of 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

In light of these facts, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has scheduled an oversight hearing on Indian gaming titled, “Doubling Down on Indian Gaming: Examining New Issues and Opportunities for Success in the Next 30 Years,” which will take place on Wednesday, October 4th at 2:30pm EST in room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building. We understand that the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Indian Gaming Commission, and the National Indian Gaming Association have been invited to testify. Witnesses for live testimony are by invitation only, and a list will be posted on the Committee’s website once confirmed. For more information about the hearing or Committee, please visit: https://www.indian.senate.gov.

House and Senate Introduce Legislation Seeking to Reauthorize Long-Awaited Tribal Housing Program

House and Senate Introduce Legislation Seeking to Reauthorize Long-Awaited Tribal Housing Program

On Thursday, September 28th, 2017, Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) was joined by a bipartisan group of his colleagues in the House including Reps. Gwen Moore (D-WI), Don Young (R-AK), Rick Nolan (D-MN), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), Denny Heck (D-WA) and Congressional Native American Caucus Co-Chairs, Tom Cole (R-OK) and Betty McCollum (D-MN) to introduce H.R. 3864, a bill which seeks to reauthorize the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA), to increase access to safe and affordable housing for Native Americans across the nation. The bill has been referred to the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees jurisdiction in the House of Representatives. Cosponsors of H.R. 3864 provided the following statements in a release issued by the Office of Rep. Pearce.

“Prosperity and opportunity have eluded Native American families on tribal lands for too long. From increased access to quality housing, to lease-to-own programs aimed at providing rural tribes with the resources and flexibility to develop modern communities, NAHASDA assists tribes in meeting the unique housing challenges of each community with independence and self-choice. These reforms provide faster approval of projects, allowing tribes to focus on economic development and innovation rather than administrative processes. The bill also reduces inefficiencies within government spending, and ultimately aids some of the most vulnerable communities in our country with real opportunity to improve. I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate who have worked with me in a truly bipartisan, bicameral effort to reduce the burden on tribes and expand opportunity in Native American housing. By working across the aisle and with tribal leaders nationwide, we are helping to lay the foundation for real, concrete reforms needed in tribal communities,” stated Rep. Pearce.

“As a former welfare recipient, I know firsthand the critical role safe and affordable housing plays in breaking the cycle of poverty. With Native Americans representing some of the poorest and most remote communities in the United States, it is vital that Tribal governments have the autonomy to provide affordable housing to their constituents. The bipartisan reintroduction of NAHASDA – done in consultation with Tribal stakeholders – not only affirms this irrefutable concept, but also underscores the imperative to expand economic opportunities for Native Americans while recognizing and appreciating their Tribal sovereignty,” stated Rep. Moore.

“Reauthorizing NAHASDA is critical to fulfill our nation’s trust responsibility to Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. Safe, secure, and affordable housing is essential to the wellbeing of our country’s native people which leads to better health, education, and economic outcomes that strengthen native communities. In Hawaii, almost 30 percent of the homeless population is comprised of Native Hawaiians – a statistic that is far too high in the most prosperous country in the world. Reauthorizing NAHASDA provides needed financial support to native communities in Hawaii and across the country. We must continue to fight for the programs that will improve housing and wellness resources for Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians communities throughout the country,” stated Rep. Gabbard.

H.R. 3864 is similar to H.R. 360, the NAHASDA reauthorization bill which passed the House in the 115th Congress, but stalled in the Senate. It would provide $650 million to fund the program through 2022 and includes the Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program, to help address homelessness among Native veterans by providing housing and rental assistance. The HUD-VASH Program would be jointly administered by HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs. It also seeks to alleviate restrictions by allowing Tribes to utilize awards on all available housing units. In addition, the bill includes provisions that would streamline the federal approval and administrative processes, and consolidate the environmental review requirements for tribes. It would permit recipients to use funding from the Indian Health Service (IHS) for the construction of sanitation facilities for housing construction and renovation projects. It also includes language that would provide for funding of the Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant and Loan Guarantees, which both directly support affordable housing on Hawaiian homelands.

A companion measure, S. 1895, was also offered by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), Vice Chairman to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, in the Senate. The Senate bill has three cosponsors including Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Al Franken (D-MN), and Brian Schatz (D-HI).

“NAHASDA has a long history of bipartisan support, and I am pleased we are making progress on bipartisan, bicameral legislation to reauthorize this critical law, which has been held up for too long. Safe, well-built housing is a fundamental necessity for building strong, healthy communities, and this legislation will help ensure Tribal communities have quality housing while also driving further investments into Indian Country. Given the housing crisis in all of Indian Country, we must do all we can to make sure NAHASDA is fully authorized for all Native communities. I look forward to working with Congressman Pearce and my House and Senate colleagues to see this bill passed and signed into law,” stated Vice Chairman Udall.

NAHASDA was first signed into law in 1996 to make housing assistance directly available to tribes through the Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) program. The program works to increase and strengthen the relationship between Indian tribes and the federal government. The NAHASDA program was last reauthorized in 2008 for a five-year period that expired on September 30th, 2013.

Congress Passes 3-Month Extension of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI)

Congress Passes 3-Month Extension of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI)

During the afternoon of Thursday, September 28th, the House and Senate passed H.R. 3823, the Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2017, which reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and provides some tax relief provisions for those areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, but also includes a 3-month extension for the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI). The SDPI program had been set to expire after September 30th. H.R. 3823 provides the current level of funding for the “first quarter of the fiscal year 2018”.

Although tribes have been seeking a longer term reauthorization of the SDPI program, the likely legislative vehicle for that reauthorization, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) reauthorization, was not considered by Congress last week. While a 3-month extension is not ideal, it will ensure that there is no gap in funding provided for the program.

David Bernhardt sworn in as Deputy Secretary of the Interior Department

David Bernhardt sworn in as Deputy Secretary of the Interior Department

On Tuesday, August 1st, David Bernhardt was sworn in as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior (Department) by Secretary Ryan Zinke. Bernhardt was confirmed by a Senate vote of 53 to 43 on July 24th. He previously served as Director of the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs and later as Solicitor at the Department during the George W. Bush Administration. He also was a counselor and policy adviser to former Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Secretary Zinke said, “I’m excited to have David Bernhardt here to help me lead the Department of the Interior.” At the moment, Zinke and Bernhardt are the only two officials confirmed by the Senate at the Department. The Department is responsible for upholding trust responsibilities between the federal government and tribal nations.

White House Announces Department of the Interior Solicitor Nominee

White House Announces Department of the Interior Solicitor Nominee

On Monday, July 31st, the White House announced the President’s intent to nominate Idaho attorney Ryan Nelson to serve as the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior (DOI or Department). The DOI Solicitor plays a significant role in determining the Department’s legal positions on litigation and federal laws that impact the federal government’s treaty and trust obligations to Indian Country. The nomination will be referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which will likely schedule a hearing on the nomination in September.

A link to the White House press release is included here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/07/31/president-donald-j-trump-announces-intent-nominate-personnel-key.

Senate Rejects the “Skinny Repeal” of the Affordable Care Act by a Vote of 49-51

Senate Rejects the “Skinny Repeal” of the Affordable Care Act by a Vote of 49-51

In the early hours of Friday morning on July 28th, the Senate voted against the “Skinny Repeal” measure, which was a scaled down repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), by a vote of 49-51 ending attempts to repeal the ACA for now. Three Republican Senators voted against the bill, which included: Senator Susan Collins (ME), Senator John McCain (AZ), and Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK). While Senators Collins and Murkowski were expected to vote against the bill, Senator McCain’s vote against the bill was not entirely expected. McCain made a dramatic return to the Senate to vote for the motion to proceed to debate on the bill earlier in that week. As the Senate held the vote open for more than an hour, both Vice President Pence and President Trump tried to convince Senator McCain to change his vote to yes, but he refused to vote for the measure. In response to questions about why he voted against the bill, Senator McCain simply said, “I thought it was the right vote, I do my job as a Senator.”

After failing to pass different versions of an ACA repeal including the BCRA (repeal and replace) and the ORRA (repeal and delay), Senate Republican Leadership had crafted what they called a “Skinny Repeal” that would have repealed the individual mandate, repealed the employer mandate for 8 years, provided additional flexibility to state’s on implementing ACA regulations, defund Planned Parenthood and provide that funding to community health centers, repeal the medical device tax for 3 years, increase contribution limits to Health Savings Accounts, and eliminate the Center for Disease Control’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. The “Skinny Repeal” was an attempt to find a bill that would be able to pass the Senate and enable the Senate and House to set up a Conference Committee to write a new ACA repeal bill. Many Republican Senators only supported the bill after assurances from the Speaker of the House that they would engage in a Conference Committee and not just take up the Senate bill in the House.