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 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.

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

New Secretary of Interior is Confirmed

 
 
On Thursday, the US Senate confirmed David Bernhardt as the new Secretary of the Interior.  The vote was largely along party lines 56 to 41, some Democrats pointed out the contradiction with Trump’s administration to “drain the swamp” of those insiders in Washington who take over key appointed positions for their own gain.  Bernhardt, is a former industry lobbyist for Oil and the Agribusiness, and now sits a top an agency that governs and regulates mineral rights and leases.  Bernhardt, who has played a major role in designing the President’s policies for expanding drilling and mining, will now serve over 500 million acres of public land and vast coastal waters. However, Secretary Bernhardt is also known for imposing more ethical standards at the Department of the Interior, after scandals during the Bush Administration.  And he certainly has experience with Department programs.  He served as the Deputy Secretary under Zinke and was Acting Secretary until his recent appointment this week. See New York Times Article

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

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.

Highway Trust Fund – How it works

The Highway Trust Fund, which collects and allocates money to build and maintain surface transportation structures, receives almost 90 percent of its funding from a fuel tax on gasoline and diesel, while remaining revenue comes from miscellaneous taxes on tires, heavy vehicles, etc. Since 1993 the fuel tax has not adjusted. Advancements in technology has led to a decrease in the amount of fuel consumed and thus a decrease in revenue. Additionally, the almost 25 percent of the revenue from the fuel tax is diverted away from highway spending.

The Highway Trust Fund itself is divided into two accounts—the Highway Account and the Mass Transit Account—and each account expends roughly 85 percent and 15 percent of the total funds respectively. Highway Trust Fund spending has routinely outpaced fuel tax revenue. For the 2015 fiscal year, the Highway Account is estimated to spend upwards of $44 billion on roadway infrastructure and similar projects while only taking in $34 billion. Including the deficit accumulated by the Mass Transit Account, the Highway Trust Fund is expected to amass a deficit of $13 billion by the end of the 2015 FY.

Because the Highway Trust Fund cannot have a negative balance and must have a $5 billion minimum balance to meet obligations, Congress must shift money from the Treasury’s general fund. Over the last six years, Congress has diverted general fund dollars to the Highway Trust Fund more than thirty times. These “patches” are short-term fixes typically lasting from six months to a year and do not represent viable options in the long run.

Proposals for sustainable solutions include:

  • Increasing fuel tax
  • Decreases non-highway spending
  • Taxing the overseas earnings of multinational corporations (repatriation)
  • Downsizing Federal role in transportation
  • Additional State actions such as tolls, bonds, sales taxes

Click here for more information on how the Highway Trust Fund works.

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