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Senate Indian Affairs Committee to take up land-into-trust fix

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) serves as vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Photo from Flickr

Update: Starting this afternoon, the committee will begin webcasting its business meetings. Today's meeting starts at 2:15pm Eastern.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will consider a bill to fix the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar at a business meeting on Wednesday.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) , the vice chairman of the committee, introduced S.732 on March 12. The bill -- which has six Democratic co-sponsors and one Republican -- amends the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 to ensure that all tribes, regardless of the date of their federal recognition, can follow the land-into-trust process.

"This bipartisan bill was built with tribal input and eliminates unnecessary hurdles for tribes to increase economic development opportunities," Tester said in press release. "The court decision had a negative impact on tribes across the nation by causing costly litigation and harmful delays in critical infrastructure development. This solution addresses one of Indian Country's top priorities and is a strong step forward to fulfilling the federal government's treaty and trust responsibilities."

The committee has not held a hearing on S.383 in the 114th Congress. But tribal leaders have repeatedly told lawmakers that they support a fix to the Carcieri decision in order to clear up doubts about their ability to place land into trust.

The Obama administration also supports a fix. Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn said the decision has created a bureaucratic mess at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"Overall, what that means is that it just slows us down tremendously," Washburn told the committee on July 8. "It's been a horrible burden."

S.723 is one of two bills on the agenda for the business meeting. The other is S.383, the Indian Trust Asset Reform Act.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) on February 5, helps tribes gain greater control of their trust assets. It hasn't received a hearing either but tribal leaders have endorsed it.

"This bill would be a step forward and would allow us to control how our trust assets are managed," Ernie Stensgar, the vice chairman of the Couer d'Alene Tribe of Idaho, told the committee at the July 9 hearing.

The business meeting takes place at 2:15pm in Room 628 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. It will not be webcast but an audio-only feed will be available at CapitolHearings.Org.

Committee Notice:
Business Meeting to Consider S. 383 and S. 732 (July 29, 2015)

DOI Solicitor Opinion:
M-37029: The Meaning of "Under Federal Jurisdiction" for Purposes of the Indian Reorganization Act (March 12, 2014)

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