Official in Oklahoma makes bizarre claim about HEARTH Act

President Barack Obama signed H.R.205, the HEARTH Act of 2012, into law on July 30, 2012. Photo by Pete Souza / White House

An elected official in Shawnee, Oklahoma, must not be on the White House e-mail list.

After The Countywide & Sun published a story that discussed the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership (HEARTH) Act, Vice Mayor James Harrod claimed the law was not "active." He said he "did a little research and in about 10 minutes" he found out that the measure had "never been voted on, never been presented to the Congress or the House," the paper reported.

But as the paper points out, President Barack Obama signed H.R.205 into law on July 30, 2012, after it cleared both chambers of Congress and was the subject of hearings.

Since then, the HEARTH Act has been covered widely by media outlets across the nation because it has proven successful in Indian Country. As of June 2015, 18 tribes utilized the law to assert greater control over leasing, housing and other developments on their lands.

Citizen Potawatomi Nation Chairman John "Rocky" Barrett, seated on left, met with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn on November 25, 2013, to sign the tribe's HEARTH Act regulations. Also pictured are CPN Vice Chair Linda Capps and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), both standing. Photo by Department of the Interior

Two Shawnee-area tribes in fact have taken advantage of the law but Harrod must not read the Federal Register or the Interior Department website. The Absentee Shawnee Tribe and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation secured Bureau of Indian Affairs approval for their HEARTH Act regulations in June 2015 and November 2013, respectively.

"The BIA uses it as maybe it’s giving them permission to do something but it’s actually never been approved, never passed Congress, never been out of committee," Harrod said at a city meeting last month, the Countywide & Sun reported.

Harrod's erroneous claim was spurred by the paper's coverage of a BIA letter to the Citizen Potawatomi Nation that confirmed that the tribe's lands cannot be taxed by local governments. The city has been trying to impose a 5 percent sales tax on tribes in the Shawnee area.

"We have determined that improvements, leasehold interests and activities conducted on Indian trust land and restricted lands pursuant to a tribal lease under approved HEARTH Act regulations, are exempt from state taxation due to federal pre-emption," Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the BIA, wrote in the letter, the Countywide & Sun reported.

Get the Story:
Tribal Project To Proceed; Harrod Scolds Newspaper (The Countywide & Sun 8/6)
CPN Gets Opinion Saying State, Cities, Can't Force Tribes To Collect Taxes (The Countywide & Sun 7/30)

Federal Register Notices:
HEARTH Act Approval of Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma Regulations (June 25, 2015)
HEARTH Act Approval of Citizen Potawatomi Nation Regulations (June 25, 2015)

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