Category Archives: updates on washington legislation

Carcieri Fix Legislation Scheduled for House Floor May 8, 2019

On May 8, 2019, the House is scheduled to voteon H.R. 375, a bill to amend the Act of June 18, 1934 (Indian Reorganization Act), to reaffirm the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for all tribal nations. Introduced by Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) with bi-partisan support, the bill presents a “clean fix” to the conflict caused by the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, which held that the Secretary of the Interior lacks authority to take land into trust under Section 5 of the Indian Reorganization Act for tribal nations that were not under federal jurisdiction in 1934. For a decade, tribal nations have called for a clean fix to the costly turmoil caused by this misguided decision.
H.R. 375 would (1) restore the Secretary’s IRA authority to take land into trust for all federally recognized tribal nations; and (2) reaffirm existing Indian trust lands.

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

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.


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

 

Fake News: It happens in Indian Country Too!

No doubt you have heard the news about the CEO and founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerburg testifying on Capitol Hill, and explaining why he didn’t protect his Facebook subscribers from privacy breaches and those that promote false and fake news.  Well Indian Country is not exempt.  See Washington Post Article:

Well fake news happens about Indian Country too.  An article has been circulating on Facebook in recent weeks you may have seen published on May 5, with the headline, “In Victory for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Court Finds That Approval of Dakota Access Pipeline Violated the Law”.  That article was cut and pasted from an article a year ago.  A Vietnamese site claiming to be about Native American affairs has recycled the story to gin up clicks and advertising revenue. For some reason news about the Standing Rock reservation and Native American affairs in general have become a favorite niche of foreign-run Facebook pages and websites. If you see a news report about these topics pop up in your newsfeed, always check if you are looking at an original source before liking, sharing or commenting: it could be you are looking at old news being repackaged and fed back into your news stream by some guy in Macedonia or Kosovo wanting to make a few quick bucks.

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.

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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