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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

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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.
 

Federal Court Rules Against Redskins In Legal Battle With Native Americans

JULY 08, 201510:23 AM ET

A federal court has ruled against Washington, D.C.’s, professional football team in a legal battle with Native Americans over the team’s name.

United States District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee ruled that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office should cancel the team’s trademark of the Redskins name because the name “may disparage” native Americans.

This order does not go into effect until the team has exhausted its appeals. The next step for the team would be the United States Supreme Court.

But as Judge Lee points out, even if the judicial system ultimately sides with the group of Native Americans fighting this in court, the team could still continue to use its name. The decision would mean that the team would no longer be protected by federal trademark protections, which means the team would have a harder time stopping independent sellers from using its logo on jerseys, for example.

As the Washington Post reports, the team has argued that canceling its trademark “would taint its brand and remove legal benefits that would protect against copycat entrepreneurs.”

In Lee’s opinion for the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, he ruled against the team and agreed with a previous ruling from the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

Lee wrote: “The Court finds that Blackhorse Defendants have shown by a preponderance of the evidence that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to the ‘may disparage’ claim: the record evidence shows that the term ‘redskin,’ in the context of Native Americans and during the relevant time period, was offensive and one that ‘may disparage’ a substantial composite of Native Americans, ‘no matter what the goods or services with which the mark is used.’ … ‘Redskin’ certainly retains this meaning when used in connection with PFI’s football team; a team that has alwaysassociated itself with Native American imagery, with nothing being more emblematic of this association than the use of a Native American profile on the helmets of each member of the football team.”

see Article

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works asks for more Money for the Tribal Transportation Program

Tribal roads 4In a markup hearing this morning, the EPW unanimously approved the “Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act” (“DRIVE”). The bill proposes a six-year plan to address the transportation funding crisis and associated infrastructure shortfalls. Chairman Inhofe stated that the progression of the bill hinges on the elimination of red tape and redundancies that prevent large scale projects from being realized in a timely manner.

Although not discussed during today’s proceedings, the Act as it is currently written includes adjustments to the Tribal Transportation Program which would allocate more money for transportation projects on tribal land. The adjustments would set aside $460,000,000 for the 2016 fiscal year and would increase by $10,000,000 each consecutive FY up to $510,000,000 by 2021. The DRIVE Act also creates a “Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program” which would set aside funding for construction or maintenance projects sponsored by eligible Federal land management agencies or Indian tribes. Other amendments to Title 23 include a provision making tribal transportation facilities projects eligible for emergency assistance; also, the administrative expenses are expected to be cut from 6 percent to 5 percent while increasing the potential amount set aside for tribal transportation facilities bridges from 2 percent to 3 percent for each FY.

With just under forty days until the current highway program extension expires, the committee stressed the importance of continued bipartisan cooperation to ensure the creation of viable sources of revenue for the Act.

Click to view the hearing Webcast

Below are excerpts from the DRIVE Act that impact Tribal transportation funds. The excerpts may be truncated.

 Title I—Federal-Aid Highways

Subtitle A—Authorizations and Programs

 Sec. 1001. Tribal Transportation Program.—

For the tribal transportation program under section 202 of title 23, United States Code—

(a)(3)(A)

  • $470,000,000 for fiscal year 2017;
  • $480,000,000 for fiscal year 2018;
  • $490,000,000 for fiscal year 2019;
  • $500,000,000 for fiscal year 2020; and
  • $510,000,000 for fiscal year 2021.

Sec. 1022. Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads.

  • —Section 125(d)(3) of title 23, United States Code, is amended—
  • in subparagraph (A), by striking “or” at the end;
  • in subparagraph (B), by striking the period at the end and inserting “; or”; and
  • by adding at the end of the following:

“(C) projects eligible for assistance under this section located on tribal transportation facilities, Federal lands transportation facilities, or other federally owned roads that are open to public travel (as defined in subsection (e)(1)).”.

Sec. 1026. Tribal Transportation Program Amendment.

Section 202 of title 23, United States Code, is amended—

  • in section (a)(6), by striking “6 percent” and inserting “5 percent”; and
  • in subsection (d)(2), in the matter preceding subparagraph (A) by striking “2 percent” and inserting “3 percent”.

Sec. 1027. Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program.

  • —The Secretary shall establish a nationally significant Federal lands and tribal projects program (referred to in this section as the “program”) to provide funding to construct, reconstruct, or rehabilitate nationally significant Federal lands and tribal transportation projects.
  • Eligible Applicants.—
  • In General.—Except as provided in paragraph (2), entities eligible to receive funds under sections 201, 202, 203, and 204 of title 23, United States Code, may apply for funding under the program.
  • Special Rule.—A State, county, or unit of local government may only apply for funding under the program if sponsored by an eligible Federal land management agency or Indian tribe.
  • Eligible Projects.—An eligible project under the program shall be a single continuous project—
  • on a Federal lands transportation facility, a Federal lands access transportation facility, or a Tribal transportation facility (as those terms are defined in section 101 of title 23, United States Code), except that such facility is not required to be included on an inventory described in sections 202 or 203 of title 23, United States Code;
  • for which completion of activities required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) has been demonstrated through—
  • a record of decision with respect to the project;
  • a finding that the project has no significant impact; or
  • a determination that the project is categorically excluded; and
  • having an estimated cost, based on the results of preliminary engineering, equal to or exceeding $25,000,000, with priority consideration given to projects with an estimated cost equal to or exceeding $50,000,000.
  • Eligible Activities.—
  • In General—Subject to paragraph (2), an eligible applicant receiving funds under the program may only use the funds for construction, reconstruction, and rehabilitation activities.
  • Applications
  • Selection Criteria.—In selecting a project to receive funds under the program, the Secretary shall consider the extent to which the project—
  • furthers the goals of the Department, including state of good repair, environmental sustainability, economic competitiveness, quality of life, and safety;
  • improves the condition of critical multimodal transportation facilities;
  • needs construction, reconstruction, or rehabilitation;
  • is included in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places;
  • enhances environmental ecosystems;
  • uses new technologies and innovations that enhance the efficiency of the project;
  • is supported by funds, other than the funds received under the program, to construct, maintain, and operate the facility;
  • spans 2 or more States; and
  • serves land owned by multiple Federal agencies or Indian tribes.

Subtitle B—Data

 Sec. 2101. Tribal Data Collection.

Section 201(c)(6) of title 23, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

“(C) Tribal Data Collection.—In addition to the data to be collected under subparagraph (A), not later than 90 days after the end of each fiscal year, any entity carrying out a project under the tribal transportation program under section 202 shall submit to the Secretary and the Secretary of the Interior, based on obligations and expenditures under the tribal transportation program during the preceding fiscal year, the following data:

“(i) The names of projects or activities carried out by the entity under the tribal transportation program during the preceding fiscal year.

“(ii) A description of the projects or activities identified under clause (i).

“(iii) The current status of the projects or activities identified under clause (i).

“(iv) An estimate of the number of jobs created and the number of jobs retained by the projects or activities identified under clause (i).”.

Title VI—Extension of Federal-Aid Highway Programs

 Sec. 6001. Extension of Federal-Aid Highway Programs.

(c) Tribal High Priority Projects Program.–

Section 1123(h)(1) of MAP-21 (23 U.S.C. 202 note; Public Law 112-141) is amended—

  • by striking “$24,986,301” and inserting “$30,000,000”; and

by striking “July 31, 2015” and inserting “September 30, 2015″.

Click here for The DRIVE Act and Committee Summary

Transportation Reauthorization: A Priority for Congress

Momentum is building in Washington towards the important Transportation reauthorization bill to replace the current bill set to expire in November.  Last week, President Obama urged Congress to pass a four-year $302 billion package, instead of the usual two-year bill for surface transportation.  President Obama also announced $600 million dollars in a new round of competitive Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants, that will select projects that better connect communities to jobs, training and economic opportunity, including improving access to opportunity in rural communities.  In addition, this 2014 round of TIGER grants can allocate up to $35 million in planning grants to facilitate development of innovative or regional transportation solutions.  The application period for this round of TIGER grants is fast approaching, with submissions due by April 28, 2014, and Department of Transportation (DOT) Webinars on preparing applications starting March 12, 2014.

 

In the weeks leading up to President Obama’s transportation announcements, several other events brought together key players in the transportation reauthorization process and reinforced the broad consensus that the nations’ economic health will depend upon Congress finding common ground to pass a comprehensive bill well in advance of the November 1st deadline.  The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held a hearing that drew testimony from the largest national trade associations, who all emphasized the critical need for federal funding for the nation’s highways and transportation systems upon which interstate commerce relies.  A new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report moved up to this summer its estimate of when the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) will become insolvent, preventing investments in long-term transportation projects and hampering state and local governments in continuing to fund current projects.  The urgency of the need to address sustainable long-term transportation investment was further reinforced by a DOT Conditions and Performance report released February 28, 2014.  EPW Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wants a transportation reauthorization bill drafted by April so it can be passed before the Congressional August recess leading into the mid-term election cycle.

 

Certain to be a central issue in the transportation debate and negotiations is how to shore up the HTF, which plays an important role in the funding process.  At issue will be whether to increase, and by how much, the federal fuels and diesel per gallon taxes.  Potentially further complicating the debate is the recent tax reform proposal put forth by Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp (R-MI), which would dedicate additional funding streams to the HTF to supplement the user fee taxes currently in place.  Although, Bill Shuster (R-PA), Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has noted the value for long-term transportation planning of such an increase in dedicated funding for the HTF and reiterated his commitment to Congressional action on a transportation bill this year, the broader and controversial implications of Rep. Camp’s tax reform proposal may be divisive.

 

Recognizing the importance of a unified voice in the fast moving reauthorization process, a Tribal Transportation Reauthorization Unity Summit was held last week in Denver, CO to develop consensus priorities and strategies for Indian Country to advance during the reauthorization process.  Specific recommendations include increasing funding for the Tribal Transportation Program up to $1.05 billion by 2020 and increasing both the discretionary and formula funding for the Tribal Transit Programs, while ensuring existing Tribal Transit Programs formula funding is not reduced.  The Unity Summit priorities also identify restoring Highway Trust Fund allocation for the Tribal High Priority Projects Program, establishing a Tribal Asset Management Program to maintain existing transportation facilities, separate funding for the TTP Tribal Bridge Program, and establishing a $75,000 minimum TTP allocation for all tribes.

 

The Resolution passed during the Unity Conference highlighted the disparity that despite the fact that 3% of national infrastructure roads are within Indian Country, only 1% of federal transportation dollars are allocated for Indian Country.  To address this disparity, other consensus objectives from the Unity Conference include establishing set aside funding formulas for highway safety programs aimed to decrease high rates of fatalities and injuries on tribal transportation systems, as well as ensuring that tribes are eligible for all other streams of transportation funding and enhancing tribal self-governance as to transportation infrastructure.  Conference attendees also put forth an innovative proposal to establish a Tribal Infrastructure Bank with guaranteed minimum capitalization to provide low interest loans for tribal transportation projects.

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