Category Archives: politics

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Here is the unpublished opinion in Amador County v. Dept. of Interior: CADC Unpublished Opinion Here are the briefs.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

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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

Congress approves yet another short-term extension for Indian diabetes program

Posted: Monday, October 9, 2017  Indianz.com  

Congress has renewed the Special Diabetes Program for Indians but only for three months, the shortest extension on record.The program, which has contributed to a reduction in diabetes in Indian Country, was due to expire on September 30. It was saved, albeit on a very temporary basis, by a provision in H.R.3823, the Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law barely a day before the deadline.The provision, found in Section 301 of the measure, ensures that the IHS can distribute grants to tribes, Alaska Natives and urban Indians for the next three months. The program was funded with $37.5 million, which represents the usual level of funding.But while the new law averts a temporary crisis, the National Indian Health Board pointed out that it expires on December 31. The organization has been lobbying for longer extensions in order to maintain Indian Country’s successes in preventing and treating diabetes.”SDPI supports treatment and prevention in American Indian and Alaska Native communities impacted by type 2 diabetes at a rate of 15.1 percent, prevalence higher than any other minority population in the United States,” an October 2 letter to key members of Congress stated. “SDPI has resulted in a 54 percent reduction in kidney failure rates among Native American populations between 1996 and 2013.”American Indian (AI) and Alaska Native (AN) adults suffer from the highest rates of diabetes in the United States. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14.9 percent of Native men over the age of 18 have been diagnosed with diabetes, the highest among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States. And 15.3 percent of Native women suffer from the condition, again the highest rate in the nation.Grants from the SDPI have kept the rates from growing even higher, according to tribal advocates and key lawmakers. Yet Congress has been reluctant to authorize long-term extensions or provide more funding for the programAs a result, tribes have had to settle for two-year and one-year extensions, instead of the five-year extensions that were common in the past. The three-month extension is the shortest so far.There are efforts to attach SDPI to the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, an otherwise popular programthat expired at the end of September. A two-year extension has been included in H.R.3922, the Community Health And Medical Professionals Improve Our Nation Act, or the CHAMPION Act.H.R.3922 was approved by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce at a markup on October 4. It authorizes $150 million in grants for each of the two years, or the same level of funding in the current program.That same day, the Senate Finance Committee held a markup and approved S.1827, the Keep Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure Act (KIDS Act), to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Plan. The bill does not include SDPI at this point.Separately, Rep. Norma Torres (D-California), the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, has introduced H.R.2545 to renew SDPI for five years. Her bill would also increase funding levels in the coming years.A newly-introduced bill, H.R.3917, reauthorizes the program for just two years. It maintains the $150 million funding level and takes into account the three-month extension that was just signed into lawwith H.R.3823.

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.
 

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:

Washington Update: Oct. 2017

This has been a hard week on Congress and the rest of the Country struggling to grasp the magnitude of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Sunday night, and the motivation of the killer.  Debate, shifted from the GOP tax reform package release last week, to gun control legislation.   Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla) is looking at introducing  a legislative package to ban Bump Stocks, a tool to convert semi-automatic weapons to fully automatic.  Speaker Ryan, has spoken this week on the issue, and implies the party is looking also at a regulatory rather than legislative fix to the use of Bump Stocks.  The fact either path, is being debated by the GOP is a departure from past positions on gun control, but reflects that the shooting in Las Vegas has a big impact on country and what can be done to prevent future misuse of illegal weapons.
Meanwhile, the GOP is pushing tax reform, and the advantages to both large businesses and individuals.  After, the failure to pass health care reform, to free up revenue for Tax Reform, now the debate is on whether Tax Reform will increase the deficit by reducing tax rates. If Republicans do aim for a deficit-neutral plan, it would make it much more difficult to advance a package that relies on the theory that short-term deficits can lead to long-term economic growth.
Instead, the GOP would be forced to find ways to pay for the tax cuts, inevitably creating a “winners and losers” situation in which some income brackets would see a reduction in their taxes, while others may see an increase. Removing the state and local tax deduction, for example, has become a huge point of debate within the party because some states, like Pennsylvania and New York, might be more adversely impacted than others where the state and local taxes are not as high.
For this update, we will report on the tax reform plan, where the budget stands, and how Indian country may be impacted.

Happy New Year 2016

We want to wish everyone a very happy and prosperous new year, and hope to see you again in 2016 at conferences or here in Washington.  The Congress has been very busy at the end of this year and proud of the fact it accomplished the passage of major highway and education bills that had lingered on the congressional agenda for months, and also approved a tax break and spending package, avoiding a government shutdown.   Appears that Congress is working again.  As Speaker Ryan recently was quoted. “We passed more major legislation in a few weeks than we have in a few years.” See my other recent blog post for details of the recent legislation that broke the congressional deadlock. new years 2016

WASHINGTON LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: OMNIBUS SPENDING BILL, TAX EXTENDERS, INTERIOR IMPROVEMENT ACT

Vietnam memorial at ChristmasCongress Passes $1.8 Trillion Spending Measure
 
After much debate and wrangling and some say a beaten down Congress on Friday December 18th, 2015 passed a $1.8 trillion package of spending and tax cuts with little rancor.  Majority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) had promised there would be no shutdown or default this year. And was quoted as saying “By any objective standard, I think, the Senate is back to work”.  Speaker Ryan was credited with winning a majority of Republicans votes for the huge spending and tax package, although House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) insisted that Republicans came on Board only because of a recently added provision to end a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. And, at a recent news conference President Obama said, “we’ve gotten kind of used to last-minute crises and shutdown threats and so forth…this is a messy process that doesn’t satisfy everybody completely, but it’s more typical of American democracy. And I think that Speaker Ryan deserves a role in that”.
Representative Tom Cole (R-Ok) managed much of the floor debate for Republicans and said that all lawmakers could find items to support or oppose in such a huge spending and tax-break package.  As an end result, the period of belt-tightening ended in Washington the spending measure for 2016 provides a $66 billion increase in Federal outlays above previously agreed-upon limits, divided equally between military and nonmilitary programs.  The White House and congressional Democrats said they had thwarted the Republicans’ main policy goals, including efforts to cut off government financing for Planned Parenthood and put restrictions on Syrian and Iraqi refugees, while securing a number of their own priorities, including tax benefits for working Americans and to promote renewable energy.  And Speaker Ryan, who was the former Chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee pushed through the major tax-break package that many Democrats opposed.
The House approved the Tax Breaks on Thursday Dec. 17th and the spending measure on Friday with a vote of 316 to 113, with 150 Republicans and 166 Democrats supporting the bill.   The Senate then voted to end the debate on the overall legislation, dispensed with several procedural steps, and approved the package, 65 to 33.
Spending Bill provisions impacting Tribal Programs:
  • For the Indian Health Service (IHS), the omnibus provides a total appropriation of $4.8 billion, a 3.6% increase over FY 2015 levels. This includes flat funding at $914 million for Purchased/Referred Care (formerly Contract Health Services) and $523 for Facilities, a $63 million increase. It also provides an additional $10 million to alcohol and substance abuse for a focus on Tribal youth, and an increase of $12.9 million for staffing.
  • The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is funded at a total of $2.8 billion, a 7.5% increase over FY 2015 enacted. This includes $2.26 billion for the Operation of Indian Programs, a $161 million reduction compared to FY 2015, as well as $852 million for the Bureau of Indian Education. Notably, the bill also contains $138 million for school construction, an increase of $63.7 million, which should complete the 2004 replacement school construction list.
  • For Contract Support Costs (CSC) at both BIA and IHS, the omnibus creates an indefinite appropriation using the language, “such sums as may be necessary,” rather than specific amounts. Tribes and Tribal organizations advocated for the CSC line item to be made mandatory on a permanent, indefinite basis in order to stabilize funding, protect funding appropriated to other line items, and help to avoid funding shortfalls. Though the omnibus does not make CSC mandatory, providing for an indefinite appropriation will allow the agencies to pay CSC in full, as required by the Supreme Court decision in Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter, as well as protect other line items in the budget and avoid shortfalls.
  • In addition to the omnibus, Congress also passed a $680 million package to extend a number of critical tax provisions that have been expired since the end of 2014. Each of these tax credits is designed to encourage increased investment in projects within Indian Country, as well as increased jobs for Native people and indicate that greater tax reform is around the corner.  These include:
    • Indian Employment Tax Credit. Extended until December 31, 2016, this provides a tax credit for private employers of tribal members and their spouses in Indian country. On-reservation unemployment rates and poverty rates are disproportionately high, and this tax credit encourages on-reservation employers to invest in the Native workforce. Without the certainty of permanency, and with effectively only one year of guaranteed credits at this point, employers have less incentive to invest in Native workers.
    • Accelerated Depreciation for Business Property on Indian Reservations. Extended until December 31, 2016 this provision allows businesses located on Indian land to claim a tax credit for certain property and infrastructure investments at sooner than they would be able to if located off-reservation. Because this credit is effectively only guaranteed through the end of 2016, there is less incentive for businesses to relocate onto Indian lands and spur on-reservation economic growth.
    • Indian Coal Production Tax Credit. Extended until December 31, 2016, this provides a tax credit to producers of coal on Indian land. This credit is vital to draw coal businesses to Indian country, where many tribes lack the capacity to produce and export their coal in-house. Again, because coal businesses are effectively only guaranteed this credit through the end of 2016, there is less incentive to build up the infrastructure and workforce necessary.
    • New Markets Tax Credit. Extended until December 31, 2019, this program provides tax credits to businesses investing in low-income workforce’s and communities, including-but not limited to-Native communities.
    1. Low Income Housing Credit.  Permanently extended, this provision allows the 9-percent minimum credit rate for the low-income housing tax credit for non-Federally subsidized new buildings. Though not limited to tribes, low income housing projects on Indian lands will now be more predictable and attractive to private investors.
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Passes S. 1879, 

the Interior Improvement Act 

On Wednesday, December 2, 2015 the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) passed the Interior Improvement Act, S. 1879 that was introduced by Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wy) in July of this year. The bill improves the Department of Interior’s trust land acquisition process by codifying and streamlining portions of the process, reaffirming the Secretary’s authority to take land into trust for all federally recognized tribes and reaffirms the statutes of lands already taken into trust. The Chairman added manager’s amendments that were technical in nature and did not stray far for the original legislation.  Assistant Secretary Washburn has supported the legislation saying at most it codifies existing practices at the department, and does not disrupt the current land into trust review and will expedite the process for many trust lands applications.  This bill now sets the mark for legislation in the next Congress, and indicates that Congressional movement to fix the US Supreme Court Decision (Carcieri v. Salazar in 2009) is closer at hand.
 
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