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March Washington & Legislative Update

March 11, 2013

This week, on March 5th and 6th, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) hosts the Tribal Nations Legislative Summit and 113th Congress Executive Council. Items on the agenda include leadership discussions with Senators and Congresspersons and updates from The President’s Office, Federal Agencies, and the Senate Committee On Indian Affairs. Confirmed speakers include: Senator Tom Udall (NM), Congressman Tom Cole (OK), Congressman Denny Heck (WA), Senator Jon Tester (MT), Congressman Ben Ray Lujan (NM), Congresswoman Betty McCollum (MN), Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK), Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI), Congressman Darrell Issa (CA), Congressman Frank Pallone (NJ) and Senator Mark Begich (AK).

Following NCAI Tribal Nations Legislative Summit this week, the FCC Office of Native Affairs and Policy (ONAP) is hosting an FCC Update for Indian Country: New Telecom Funding Opportunities and Policy Developments. They will no doubt talk about the announcement to expand the number of radio stations owned by American Indian Tribes, or Tribally owned or controlled entities, broadcasting to Tribal lands. They have created a blog post explaining the two FCC Orders granting petitions from the Navajo Nation relating to a new FM station allotment in New Mexico and from the Hualapai Tribe about a new FM station allotment in Arizona.

Violence Against Women Act Update:

Last month was a nail-biter as Indian Country watched and waited to see if VAWA would be renewed and include new Tribal provisions.  The landmark legislation had strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate and was passed on February 28, 2013, and President Obama will hold a signing ceremony on Thursday, March 7th, 2013. The legislation now includes a constitutionally sound section that provides for the recognition of Tribal jurisdiction over non-Natives who perpetrate domestic violence offenses on a reservation.  President Obama released a statement saying, “I was pleased to see the House of Representatives come together and vote to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act.  Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse. Today’s vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community.”  NCAI President Jefferson Keel stated, “With this authority, comes a serious responsibility and tribal courts will administer justice with the same level of impartiality that any defendant is afforded in state and federal courts. We have strong tribal courts systems that protect public safety.  The law respects tribal sovereignty, and also requires that our courts respect the due process rights of all defendants.  My hope is that this new law is rarely used.  Our goal isn’t to put people in jail. It is to create an effective deterrent so that our people can lead safe lives in our communities and nations.”

Sequester Update:

As we know, sequester has come and gone. It seems like some expected the sky to fall with the passing deadline.  In reality, that may come later.  No one is sure the effect yet as federal agencies and those who depend on federal funding begin to make their mandatory cuts.  NCAI released a statement on February 27th that analyzes the effect of sequester on Indian Country and the bottom line is that sequestration sacrifices the federal trust responsibility to tribes, with the most profound effects likely to be limiting economic growth in Indian country.  Some key Tribal programs in the Department of Interior that will be affected include: human services, law enforcement, schools, economic development and natural resources ($130 million loss); the Indian Health Service (IHS) will likely decrease admissions by 3,000; and schools in Indian country will take losses that affect over 100,000 kids directly.  Further complicating the sequester is the fact that the Congress has not yet passed last year’s fiscal budget. So now Congress is taking up the matter of the Continuing Resolution; they and we all hope that a government shutdown is avoided. We’ll know by March 27, 2013.