Category Archives: news articles

Tribal Transportation Funding Re-authorization Legislation

Legislators are hoping to make significant progress on the FAST Act (Transportation) re-authorization before the congressional recess in August, but it is unclear whether that progress will result in a bill markup by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works or move closer to a floor vote.
On April 11, Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) introduced the Addressing Underdeveloped and Tribally Operated Streets (AUTOS) Act. The Act, S.1211, aims to improve federal funding procedures for road safety and repairs in Indian Country. Joining Sen. Hoeven, the bill’s cosponsors are Sens. Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND). Senator. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that Senator Hoeven chairs.
Tribal transportation authorities currently receive a majority of funding under the Tribal Transportation Program (TTP), which is jointly managed by the BIA and Federal Highway Administration. TTP initially received $465M in fiscal year 2016 under the FAST Act, the current legislation for transportation funding. With the FAST Act set to authorize $505M for the next fiscal year and expire in September 2020, the AUTOS Act’s sponsors see an opportunity to streamline the federal funding process and to address the increasing maintenance backlog for roads, bridges, and safety features on tribal lands.
The Act’s main impact for tribal transportation budgets is the additional $16M in funding that it would add to any amount included in a FAST Act reauthorization for fiscal year 2021. This figure would increase by $2M each year with a total of $24M for the 2025 fiscal year. The BIA Road Maintenance Program would receive separate dedicated funding of $46M for the 2021 fiscal year and end with $54M for fiscal year 2025.
The AUTOS Act would allow the Secretary of Interior to create categorical exclusions from environmental review similar to those already established by the Department of Transportation. For safety projects that still require review, the Secretary or other supervising federal official will have to use the shortest timeline possible to report back to the Indian tribe proposing the project. Under the proposed bill, Tribes also can enter into agreements to conduct environmental reviews for TTP funded projects.
The AUTOS Act would also start a federal initiative to standardize crash reports for tribal road accidents and study road maintenance best practices. Read AUTOS Act

The Long Awaited Mueller Report is Out: What it Reveals

 
It has been six hundred and seventy six days about since Robert Mueller began his report, in a secluded office in Southwest Washington, D.C.  The report has been completed and turned into Attorney General William Barr on a late Friday afternoon. It already reveals a lot, while the battle is just beginning on how much of the report will be available for review. Speculation is the report may kick up a political fire storm, but here is what we know so far. David Kris, a former Justice Department national security division chief was quoted with the best line. “I think if you took it all in in one day, it would kill you. It’s simply too much.”
Trump’s Campaign:  Mueller first went after key people in the Trump campaign, and successfully got indictments, plea agreements and convictions: Mueller began by alleging that the president’s campaign had been led by people who had engaged in serious crimes, i.e. Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos who was one of 14 Trump associates who had contact with Russian nationals during the campaign and transition. Mueller later alleged, Russian hackers accessed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee.
Mueller’s plea deals emphasized like former Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s, that over and over those surrounding the President downplayed their dealings with Russia. Flynn claimed he and the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak did not discuss Obama-era sanctions directed at the Kremlin, when in fact they had.
Trump’s Lawyer:  Mueller’s investigation has spun off investigations in at least three U.S. Attorney’s offices.  And, one resulted in the guilty plea of Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, for tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations. Cohen, threw his longtime client under the proverbial bus, testifying that all these activities were directed by Trump. The Cohen case then lead to an investigation of Trump’s inaugural festivities.
Was there collusion with Russia?  What Mueller has said on this topic was related to Roger Stone, and claims he lied about efforts he made to get information to the Campaign about the hacked emails obtained by the Russians.   Mueller’s Court filings revealed that Manafort released 2016 polling data to the Russians that had ties to Russian intelligence. But Manafort was not charged with conspiring with Russia. Nonetheless, the investigation reveals, Russia’s influence over the 2016 campaign, repeated contact by Russians with Trump’s key aids and his now undisputed financial interest in a tower in Moscow.
It will be interesting to see the details in the final report. But what we know is Trumps woes are far from over. Still to come are NY state investigations about the Trump Foundation and giving to his campaign instead of Charities, two law suits over Trump Hotels’ and activities with taking “emoluments” from foreign states, and the Federal prosecution in NY over expenditures during his inauguration. We just have not heard the end of it yet.  Washington Post story

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.


Trump Reduces Bears Ears National Monument

President Trump announced he would reduce the size of two national monuments at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday. CreditTom Brenner/The New York Times

SALT LAKE CITY — President Trump said he would dramatically reduce the size of a vast expanse of protected federal land in Utah on Monday, a rollback of some two million acres that is the largest in scale in the nation’s history.

The administration said it would shrink Bears Ears National Monument, a sprawling region of red rock canyons, by about 85 percent, and cut another area, Grand Staircase-Escalante, to about half its current size. The move, a reversal of protections put in place by Democratic predecessors, comes as the administration pushes for fewer restrictions and more development on public lands.

The decision to reduce Bears Ears is expected to trigger a legal battle that could alter the course of American land conservation, possibly opening millions of protected public acres to oil and gas extraction, mining, logging and other commercial activities.

“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” Mr. Trump said, speaking at Utah’s domed State Capitol. “And guess what? They’re wrong.”

“Together,” he continued, “we will usher in a bright new future of wonder and wealth.”

President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears in 2016, and President Bill Clinton set aside Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996. In both cases, Utah politicians said the actions were illegal abuses of a century-old law called the Antiquities Act.

Continue reading the main story

DC Circuit Court affirms land into trust for Buena Vista Rancheria in Amador County v. Dept of Interior

Here is the unpublished opinion in Amador County v. Dept. of Interior: CADC Unpublished Opinion Here are the briefs.

via D.C. Circuit Affirms Interior’s Indian Lands Determination on Buena Vista Rancheria Trust Parcels — Turtle Talk

An Early Look at the First Year of the Trump Administration…

The forty-fifth president of the United States hung a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office, placed prominently behind the president’s desk. The President has named Jackson as a model executive he hopes to emulate. The 45th President has been absolutely clear about several policy goals that, if fully implemented, will lead Indian tribes […]

via An Early Look at the First Year of the Trump Administration — Turtle Talk

US House Committee on Natural Resources Press Release: Tribal leaders and their advocates are embracing a once-controversial Indian land bill.


WASHINGTON, D.C., October 25, 2017
 –

Today, the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs held a legislative hearing on H.R. 215, the “American Indian Empowerment Act of 2017.” Introduced by Chairman Emeritus Don Young (R-AK), the bill authorizes federally recognized tribes to lease and regulate their own lands and eliminate federal government restrictions that interfere with economic development.

“Today’s hearing is a step in the right direction for getting the federal government out of the way of America’s tribes,” Rep. Young stated. “This legislation gives tribes a critical tool to leverage when determining their futures and planning for responsible resource and infrastructure development of their lands. The ‘mother may I approach’ of the federal government – which has created endless roadblocks and costly bureaucratic hurdles – has often stood in the way of uplifting and empowering our tribes. It must change, which is why I’m committed to exploring new ideas and new legislation that gives tribes the freedom and flexibility they deserve on their lands.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior (DOI) John Tahsuda testified that Indian tribes in government-to-government meetings have expressed the need “to grant tribes more autonomy and independence over their resources.”

The Department has “heard interest and requests for the Department [of the Interior] to delegate more authority to tribes, allowing them to make their own decisions on their own lands,” Tahsuda stated. [W]e are interested in accessing additional tools in our toolbox to better empower Indian country.”

A favorite saying at the Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) goes, “Nothing says sovereignty like asking for the Secretary’s permission!” according to ILTF President Cris Stainbrook.

[T]he paternalistic relationship with the federal government is continued and has continued for the past 130 years,” Stainbrook said.[V]irtually every land activity by Native nations that now requires the lengthy, time consuming Secretarial approval could be shortened by months, if not years. The many commercial development projects which dissolved because of the length of time in gaining approvals could now get down much more expeditiously.

Vice President of the Navajo Nation Jonathan Nez stressed the need for Indian land to be treated as “Tribal Nation land” rather than federal land, as his tribe has some of the highest rates for both lack of electricity and access to running water. These issues can’t be addressed without additional approval from DOI and other regulatory permits.

[O]ur land should be treated as ours and we should be allowed to manage and develop with minimal interference from other governments, whether they be federal, state or local,” Nez stated. “If we embrace this important idea, it can help the Navajo Nation in areas such as housing, utility infrastructure buildout, or economic development by eliminating unnecessary and duplicative bureaucratic reviews.”

Economic development is an important goal for tribes, and granting them the ability to capitalize on their own resources without federal impediments will go a long way toward improving socioeconomic conditions for a number of tribal nations,” Executive Vice President of Compass Lexecon and Research Affiliate at the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development Eric Henson added. 

[T]he ‘American Indian Empowerment Act’ is an opportunity to expand tribal self-governance by regaining complete control over our tribal land use,” Senior Council Member of the Lummi Nation Henry Cagey said. “That, in my view, is what tribal sovereignty is all about.”

Click here to view full witness testimony.

Indianz.com article on hearing

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: 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.
 

Mark Trahant: Indian Country goes ignored as Republicans focus on tax reform: Oct 3, 2017

Indians don’t pay taxes?

Or why the coming tax debate matters so damn much
By Mark Trahant
Trahant Reports
TrahantReports.ComThe Senate has given up on destroying Medicaid and much of the health care system and is now focused on restructuring the federal tax system (and destroying entitlement programs in the process).Here is what Speaker Paul Ryan said Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation: “We’re going to double that standard deduction. We’re going to make it so he can fill out his taxes on a postcard. We’re going to lower his taxes. That’s really important. So he has more tax-home pay. But there’s another component to this is, look at this machine shop, this business pays about a 40 percent tax rate but it competes with companies all around the world who pay an average 22 and a half percent on their taxes.”The GOP Framework begins with this set of principles: “President Trump has laid out four principles for tax reform: First, make the tax code simple, fair and easy to understand. Second, give American workers a pay raise by allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned paychecks. Third, make America the jobs magnet of the world by leveling the playing field for American businesses and workers. Finally, bring back trillions of dollars that are currently kept off-shore to reinvest in the American economy.”So how does Indian Country fit into that framework? Indians don’t pay taxes, remember? Actually if you Google that phrase it returns 2.17 million hits. It’s still a myth that will not fade away. But the larger issue of tax reform and its impact on Indian Country is still a complicated question, one that starts with the definition of “taxes.”Most so-called middle-income wage earners pay income taxes. Roughly one-third of all wage earners do not pay income taxes — and that would include a lot of tribal citizens, especially those living in their tribal nations. There are nearly 150 million tax returns filed every year and 36 million end up paying no tax at all. Another 16 million had taxable income but didn’t pay anything because of tax credits, deductions and other adjustments.And, many of Indian Country’s working class especially benefit from one such credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit. This is a hugely successful policy that returns cash money to some 7 million family incomes; a paid bonus of sorts for working.“Numerous studies show that working-family tax credits boost work effort,” according to The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “The EITC expansions of the 1990s contributed as much to the subsequent increases in work among single mothers and female heads of households as the welfare changes of that period, extensive research has found. Women who benefited from those EITC expansions also experienced higher wage growth in subsequent years than otherwise-similar women who didn’t benefit. And, by boosting the employment and earnings of working-age women, the EITC boosts the size of the Social Security retirement benefits they ultimately will receive.”In addition, the research shows that by boosting the employment of single mothers, the EITC reduces the number of female-headed households receiving cash welfare assistance,” according to the center.So far, at least, there is no plan to end the Earned Income Tax Credit. However the House Budget Committee has proposed that the IRS require more proof from taxpayers and audit homes with an error. (Auditing the poor seems a long way from the Willie Horton philosophy of tax collection, or bank robbing, and that’s the idea you go where the money is.)Read full article:

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