House committee approves Morongo Band and Alaska Native bills

The headquarters of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians in Banning, California. Photo from Morongo Band

The House Natural Resources Committee passed two tribal and Alaska Native measures at a markup session on Thursday.

By unanimous consent, lawmakers approved H.R.387, the Economic Development Through Tribal Land Exchange Act. The bill settles a long-running dispute between the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the city of Banning in California and a non-Indian landowner whose 41-acre property was being blocked by a gate and guard shack on the reservation.

"This is going to be a simple land exchange," Rep. Paul Cook (R-California), one of the co-sponsors of the bill, said on Wednesday, the first day of the markup session.

Under the bill, the tribe will acquire the 41-acre property from Lloyd Fields and the land will be placed in trust. A different 41-acre parcel owned by the tribe will be taken out of trust and conveyed to Fields. The tribe and the city are also exchanging some small parcels of land.

"It actually makes all the parties happy," Cook said of the exchange.

The committee did not hold a hearing on the bill but an identical version passed the House during the 113th Congress. The land swap will help consolidate the tribe's land holdings within the reservation, according to the markup memo.

The headquarters of the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel, Alaska. Photo from Facebook

The committee also approved H.R.521, a bill introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). It directs the Indian Health Service to convey the 23-acre site of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Regional Hospital and other facilities in Bethel, Alaska, to the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation.

Congressional action is required because the IHS can't dispose of the land under existing laws governing surplus property. The Obama administration backed the measure at a hearing on April 14.

"This is a non-controversial issue," Young said on Wednesday. "Everybody supports it."

The bill was approved by unanimous consent yesterday after Young brought up a new version in the form of an amendment. If it clears Congress, YKHC plans a $250 million renovation and expansion of the Bethel campus, according to the markup memo.

Both bills are now ready for consideration on the House floor. The committee also approved five other bills at the markup yesterday.

Committee Notice:
Markup on H.R. 387, H.R. 521, H.R. 1289, H.R. 1992, H.R. 2295, H.R. 2358, H.R. 2647 (June 11, 2015)

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