Category Archives: legislation

 House Passes Clean Carcieri Fix 

It has been a long road for Tribes like the Narragansett Indian Tribe that faced the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Salazar v. Carcieri in 2009 that ruled tribes not under federal jurisdiction at the time the Indian Reorganization Act was enacted in 1934 could not take land into trust.  This ended for the tribe the dream of a housing project on tribal land.  Today the project stands in ruins.  On Wednesday this week, the House of
Representatives passed a clean Carcieri Fix, reinforcing the authority of the Department of the Interior to take lands into trust for all tribes.  Now, the bill H.R. 375 goes to the Senate.  The House action comes after 10 years of advocating by Tribes to correct the decision that went against long standing federal policy.
It is a big step to righting a wrong and correcting an inequity against tribes that were blocked from taking their land into trust.  After the Supreme Court decision, many tribes have spent precious resources defending their homeland, and threats to projects they developed on their land.

Proposed Rulemaking on Qualified Opportunity Funds

Created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (enacted December 2017), Opportunity Zones are economically distressed areas where investments in development projects can receive special tax breaks. Opportunity Funds use the investments to stimulate development in these areas.
Currently, investors can defer taxes on capital gains invested in these Funds when the investment is sold or exchanged by the Opportunity Fund or December 31, 2026 at the latest. If an investor has money in the Fund for more than five years, then 10% of the capital gains earned are excluded from calculating income and deferred taxes. If the investment is held for more than seven years, the percentage increases to 15%. After ten years, the fair market value at the time of sale or exchange determines the amount of any deferred taxes or exclusions.
Opportunity Funds may be corporations, LLCs, or partnerships making investment business structures flexible. It is unclear how the opportunity zone system will affect tribal areas because states nominate census areas for opportunity zone designation. There is potential for future regulations to include consultation with tribal governments for designating opportunity zones.
The IRS has released proposed regulations for implementing the new Opportunity Zone tax breaks. The open comment period will begin after official publication in the Federal Register and will last for sixty days. Additionally, the IRS is planning a tribal consultation to obtain additional input on the proposed rules, including guidance on trust land leases and other potential tribal concerns. IRS Pre Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

RES 2019 – Tribal 8(a) – Hemp legalization Opportunity Zones

 
We attended Res 2019 in Nevada, where they had a record attendance of Native Business and Tribal leaders.   The work sessions included the interest Tribes and tribal businesses are showing in the production Hemp as a crop and development of  Hemp  products since the legalization of Hemp in the Farm Act.  And, the conference provided sessions with detailed information on how to start up a tribal economic development division.    There were also interesting sessions on taking advantage of the Opportunity Zone Tax incentives, created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, that offers new options for investment in economically distressed communities. Certain investors believe that the creation of Qualified Opportunity Zones will be significant.
Our firm is currently active in drafting Hemp production ordinances for clients and understanding the market for Hemp and Hemp products.  We also can help clients understand the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the potential offered by Opportunity Zones.   And, many of those attending RES are part of or have started Tribal 8(a) corporations.   Our firm has experience in this area as well, and won a significant case for a Tribal 8(a) that had been terminated, by reversing the agencies  decision.  Please let us know if we can assist you with tribal 8(a) or individual 8(a) issues in some way.  We discovered at the conference that many Native 8(a) applications had been lost by SBA after the government shut down.  We would very much like to assist you, if you have similar 8(a) questions or concerns.
We offer consultation and legal services for tribal owned enterprises, contractors, and other businesses in Indian Country. We can assist you with the SBA 8(a) process, understanding federal program requirements, applying for government contracts, and legal issues that arise from venturing with non Native Corporations.
In addition we can help with:
  • Enacting a Tribal code for creating corporations and other business entities
  •  Choosing a structure that best serves your business needs
  • Obtaining Tribal 8(a) certification and status
  •  Forming a business under appropriate law
  • Seeking joint venture partners
  • Understanding government regulations and impact on business
  • Contacting the federal government procurement offices.

Washington Highlights – Tribal Interior Budget Council

This week the Tribal Interior Budget Council met here in D.C. at the Washington Plaza Hotel.  The focus was on the President’s budget and the elimination of several key Tribal programs (as we reported in our last update).   After the Government Shutdown and the compromise on the budget in January 2019, the Bureau of Indian Affairs in general did not fare as badly in comparison to some departments.  However, Indian Affairs still suffered losses that could have been avoided if the budget compromise had gone though as planned when the US Senate voted unanimously in September 2018 to keep the government open.  For example, Tribal road maintenance would have increased prior to the shut down by more than $4 million.  After the shutdown the increase was only $1 million.  The President’s proposed 2020 budget eliminates, Indian Guaranteed loans, Tribal Scholarships, and Housing (HIP) programs, and decreases funding for many other programs, such as the Indian Child Welfare Act, Mineral and Mining projects, public safety and education construction, and funds for small and needy tribes. see budget comparison
Tribal leaders focused on other priority issue at the conference, such as land into trust, the Bureau of Indian Education funding and programs, and Transportation and road maintenance funding.  The question is whether the Tribes have the clout to get Congress to ensure key Tribal programs and funding is protected and increased.

 

Washington Highlights

The House and Senate have been on break and will return to session on March 25th.  Before break and at field hearings, they were busy with hearings on important criminal justice topics; stopping drugs from entering Indian Country, reauthorizing of the Violence Against Women Act, and the crisis on Murder and Missing Indigenous Women.
 On March 11, 2019, the President released his fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget request to Congress. The budget proposes cutting FY 2020 non-defense discretionary  funding by $54 billion (9 percent) below the FY 2019 level, and by $69 billion (11 percent) after adjusting for inflation. The proposed budget would cut the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education (BIA/BIE) by about 10.5 percent compared to the 2019 continuing resolution level.
Other agencies would see cuts including 12 percent for the Department of Health and Human Services, 18 percent for Housing and Urban Development, and 31 percent for the Environmental Protection Agency. The Indian Health Service budget request for FY 2020 is $5.9 billion, which is $392 million or 7 percent above FY 2019.
BIA Eliminations
  • Indian Guaranteed Loan Program
  • Housing Improvement Program
  • Small and Needy Tribes
  • Tribal Climate Resilience
Bureau of Indian Education Eliminations
  • Scholarships and Adult Education
  • Special Higher Education Scholarship
  • Replacement School Construction
  • Replacement Facility Construction
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Eliminations
  • Indian Community Development Block Grant
  • Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Eliminations
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP)
  • Community Service Block Grants
U.S. Department of Education Eliminations
  • Alaska Native Education Equity
  • Strengthening AN/NH-Serving Institutions
  • Native Hawaiian Student Education
Proposed Increases
  • The President’s budget request for tribal programs at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) would increase funding overall. The increase would come as a result of a proposed 7 percent set-aside for tribal governments from across DOJ discretionary programs.


Medicare and Medicaid Funding in Jeopardy

USET and other organization are asking for help lobbying for tribal consultation on the changes to Medicare and Medicaid funding to Indian country.  The rules have changed that leave it to State’s to set work requirements for eligibility for Medicaid funding through the 1115 waiver process.  This could severely impact Indian Health service funding.  Therefore AI/AN Medicaid recipients must be made exempt from these barriers to accessing the health care to which they are entitled, and CMS has a duty to ensure that this occurs as a part of the waiver process. Medicaid currently represents 67% of 3rd party revenue at IHS, and 13% of overall IHS spending.   Tribal organization are advocating that any proposed changes to the administration of Medicaid must be preceded by comprehensive consultation with Tribal Nations. Currently, the 1115 waiver process requires that states engaged in Tribal Consultation prior to submission of 1115 Demonstrations to CMS. CMS must ensure Tribal consultation with Tribal Nations occurs at both the state and federal levels before state waiver applications can proceed.

See USET Letter

 

Congress springs into action with an omnibus bill, and concerns rise about the 2019 appropriations

 

At the relief of Indian County Congress passes an Omnibus bill in March, holding the course and adding a little money to the Indian Affairs budget.  It was an uncertain, beginning to the year, that saw continuing resolutions, potential government shutdowns, a deal to raise budget caps, and a last-minute veto threat from the President.  At the end the legislation provides $1.3 trillion in omnibus appropriations for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.

 

Congressional appropriators rejected the deep cuts proposed in the President’s FY 2018 Budget Request, including those for federal Indian programs. Some of these provisions include:

  • Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA): BIA is funded at a total of $3.01 billion, an increase of $203.8 million or 7.1%.
  • Indian Health Service (IHS): IHS is funded at a total of $5.5 billion, an increase of $497.9 million or 10%.
  • Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Funding: The bill contains a 3% set aside for Tribal Nations within the VOCA fund, or $133 million for the delivery of victim services in Indian Country.
  • Opioid Epidemic: From a total of $1 billion in new grant funding to address the opioid crisis directed at state and Tribal governments, $50 million is set aside for Tribal Nations. In addition, $5 million is set aside for Tribal Nations to provide medication-assisted treatment. Finally, $7.5 million is provided for the BIA’s  Law Enforcement Opioid initiative.

Significant increases:

  • Infrastructure: spending would increase for BIA and IHS construction, BIA road maintenance, and a $100 million competitive grant program is added under Native American Housing Block Grants (NAHBG) in addition to the $655 million provided for the NAHBG formula grants.
  • Road Maintenance: will receive a 14 percent increase to $34.6 million.
  • Restoration of the Tiwahe initiative: at the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.
  • Violence Against Women Act: $2 million to implement both training and specific Tribal court needs, and $13 million to address the needs of Tribes affected by Public Law 83- 280.
  • BIA Construction: would increase by $162 million to $354.1 million, an 84 percent increase.
  • Opioid initiative:5 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Law Enforcement.

See Link: Budget Report

An interesting strategy has been proposed this last week to handle 2019 appropriations bills.  Nearly, 16 Republican senators announced a willingness to work through August recess to complete spending bills and confirm more of President Donald Trump’s nominees. Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, who has led the effort, hinted that a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky would be forthcoming. “The Senate should immediately begin work on one or several consolidated appropriations bills, so they can be openly debated and amended accordingly,” the senators wrote. “Our defense priorities are bipartisan, and they should come first.”

That letter signals a willingness by the conservatives to bundle spending bills together, perhaps using the “minibus” strategy in which several regular appropriations measures get combined on the floor. Normally, senators would not want the chamber in session well into August during an election year, with lawmakers eager to be home and meeting with constituents and voters.  The Republicans seem to want to avoid a last minute continuing resolution to keep the government funded past the end of September and they want to confirm a large number of Trump nominations as August approaches. Some of the 77 confirmations that took place by unanimous consent or voice votes as the August recess got underway in 2017 might have happened without a cancellation threat since that’s been the normal practice of the Senate.

These 16 senators, however, believe the threats affected the behavior of Senate Democrats. “Our diligence was rewarded with reason, and that can happen again,” the senators wrote.

See Article

Meanwhile dozens of Indian Country leaders were on Capitol Hill last week to present their budget priorities to key members of Congress before the Appropriations subcommittee on Interior. The testimony from tribes and Indian organization, representing every region of the nation, had a consistent message – Indian Country needs additional funding as part of the federal government’s trust and treaty responsibilities. The panel’s Republican and Democratic leaders, for the large part, have embraced that goal.
After hearing from the tribal witnesses, the House Appropriations subcommittee on Interior will spend the next month or so drafting the Interior appropriations bill. The package is typically released sometime in June, with lawmakers aiming to get it passed before October 1, the start of fiscal year 2019.

Land-in-Trust challenge against Ione Band stopped in Ninth Circuit; U.S. Supreme Court Carcieri Ruling Distinguished.

On Oct. 6, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the Eastern District of California’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Department of Interior (DOI). In 2005, the County of Amador challenged the 2012 Record of Decision placing land into trust and approving casino development for the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. Specifically, the challenge focused on the determination that the Tribe was under federal jurisdiction, per the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), and was a restored tribe receiving restored lands under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

The Ninth Circuit, interpreting Carcieri v. Salazar, 555 U.S. 379 (2009), decided that a tribe must have interacted with the federal government prior to 1934 and must be officially recognized at the time of the trust application submission. Land purchase negotiations over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries involved Congress and the Department in Ione Band affairs.

The appellate court understood this to mean that the Tribe had been under federal jurisdiction and that the intent of the IRA allowed recognition to occur at any point as long as federal jurisdiction was established in 1934 or earlier. The Ninth Circuit examined the legislative history of the IRA, in addition to contemporaneous administrative findings, and found that Congress intended the Act to apply to tribes recognized after 1934.

DOI’s interpretation of “under federal jurisdiction” separated the meaning of “recognized” from the phrase. The Department considered federal jurisdiction to mean an action or series of actions that establishes or reflects Federal obligations, authority, and duties for or to a tribe. The Court accepted this interpretation, affirmed the district court, and also ruled that the IGRA “restored tribe” exception was met.

In a related case, No Casino in Plymouth v. Zinke, the appellate circuit remanded to the Eastern District of California with instructions to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and organizational standing. The plaintiffs had not submitted specific facts showing that its members would have individual standing and its evidence was not allowed for a motion of summary judgment. Read case 

Washington Update: Budget, Health Care, and Tribal Energy

 
WASHINGTON LEGISLATIVE UPDATE:  
Budget – Health Care – Special Diabetes Program  and Tribal Energy 

 

On Oct. 5, the House passed a bill for the 2018 budget that lays out the foundation to take advantage of Senate rules for recent tax reform proposals. The Senate allows tax and spending measures to pass with a simple majority. The House budget plan accommodates $203 billion in future spending cuts meant to offset the tax reform’s projected $1.5 trillion increase to the deficit. Meanwhile, budget legislation has gone through committee in the Senate, poised for a floor vote later this month. This bill directly allows a $1.5 trillion deficit increase to be written into tax legislation. Republicans believe that the deficit increase will be offset by economic growth but this conclusion has yet to be thoroughly researched.
The House’s budget will allow $203 billion in spending cuts. These cuts have yet to be finalized and negotiations will likely be stalled by discussion on the pending tax bill. GOP leaders have made a point of prioritizing tax reform and writing the budget to reflect this emphasis. Senate Republicans are skeptical of tax reform proposals like repealing the state and local tax deduction, but are willing to support the budget to move along tax negotiations. The Senate has asked the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to find $1 billion in deficit savings. These savings would likely come from the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to fossil fuel extraction. The two budget proposals expect to balance by 2027, mostly through cuts to federal entitlement in future legislation.
The Senate pulled its most recent healthcare reform effort, the Graham-Cassidy proposal, from the voting schedule, due to a lack of support within the party. The legislation would have removed Medicaid expansion, cost-sharing protections, and premium subsidies. The bill also would have transferred federal trust responsibility over Medicaid to the states. On Sept. 29, President Trump signed into law FAA appropriations that included $37.5 million in funding for the Special Diabetes Program through the first quarter of FY2018. Rep. Mullin (R-OK) has introduced a bill, H.R.3917, which will supplement this funding with $112.5 million for the remainder of FY2018 and $150 million for FY2019.
The House Committee on Natural Resources is waiting to vote on H.R. 210, the Native American Energy Act. The Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments, S.245 (Hoeven R-ND), has passed through committee and has been waiting for a floor vote since May. The two measures work to support tribal energy independence. The House initiative would streamline the land asset appraisal process, support biomass production, and add tribal consent restrictions for Interior rules on energy production. The Senate bill extends to tribes the state and municipality hydroelectric license preference and DOE energy development loans. DOE would allow inter-tribal organizations to qualify for grants and Interior would provide technical assistance with energy resource development. Additionally, Interior would defer to tribal resource agreements and certified tribal energy development organizations for energy-related leases, rights-of-way, and business agreements. See Washington Post Article for further developments

Washington Update: Tax Reform

WHITE HOUSE/GOP ANNOUNCE NEW TAX REFORM PLAN:  STILL UNCERTAIN ON THE MESSAGE AND WHAT IT WILL COSTS.
 
Republicans and the White House announced their tax reform proposal on Sept 27. The reform would create three tax brackets and lower or remove several other taxes, such as corporate income, small business, and estate taxes. A nearly doubled standard deduction would replace most itemized deductions. Trump’s announcement of the Republican-led reform effort was accompanied by House Ways and Means ranking member Sen. Neal’s (D-MA) comments that a bipartisan effort was necessary and that Democrats needed to support the middle class in light of the reform plan’s policies and the President’s promise that the rich will not benefit.
On Sept. 26, President Trump negotiated at the last minute with Democratic leaders to leave the top tax bracket rate negotiable. Despite this cooperation, Democratic leaders were skeptical that their other demands would be met. These conditions included improved child care assistance, which was integrated in the reform plan through an increased Child Tax Credit.
The day after the announcement, Democratic Senators Warren (D-MA) and Schumer (D-NY) criticized the plan as favoring the wealthy and similar to past policies based on trickle down economics. These criticisms drew the President’s ire and prompted him to dismiss the leadership’s goals as unrealistic.  This position is in line with a statement last month signed by congressional Democrats which clearly highlighted the policy stance Democrats would advocate on tax reform.
Paul Ryan (R-WI), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Finance chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and House Ways and Means chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) have joined Gary Cohn and Steve Mnuchin of the White House to write the bill. Democratic lawmakers are eager to contribute to the reform proposal but have received mixed reactions to their involvement. While some Republicans have expressed a desire to initiate bipartisan collaboration now, leadership has been cold.
Congressional Republicans, including Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), have expressed concern over some of the reforms, such as removing state and local tax deductions and lowering the corporate interest deduction. Tensions over “pay-for” provisions in the proposal will also prove to be legislative hurdles. Sen. Corker (R-TN) expressed that any significant increase to the deficit would also hurt the measure. As of Oct. 5, the House passed a budget resolution that would aid the reform effort by providing Senate Republicans with a chance to pass reform with a simple majority through reconciliation.
For tribal interests, the plan has kept the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and tax-exempt debt; both are initiatives that encourage tribal economic development. The reform initiative also includes a five-year period allowing write-offs for depreciable assets. There is opportunity for a tribal pension allowance amid the open possibility of repealing the New Market Tax Credit.
 
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