WASHINGTON - The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has issued a review of its activities during 2003, the first session of the 108th Congress. The 108th Congress will conclude with its second session, in 2004. The second session will begin when Congress reconvenes on Jan. 20. Currently, Congress is in adjournment.
The high points below are taken in part from the full SCIA report, which can be accessed on the Internet at http://indian.senate.gov/LegUpdateDec2003.PDF. Individual bills can be accessed at the committee Web site - http://indian.senate.gov - by clicking on the Legislation link at upper left of the splash page, then scrolling down through the bill captions and clicking on the bill number in question.
The committee took a lead role in attaching a tribal amendment to the bitterly contested national energy legislation of 2003. In April it reported favorably to the full Senate a bill that would amend the Energy Policy Act of 1992 in its Indian-specific provisions. The bill blended elements of proposals by Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., chairman of the committee, and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., a committee member of long standing. "The blended bill establishes an Indian energy resource program, authorizes grants, loans and loan guarantees to tribes and tribal energy organizations, includes assistance for tribal regulatory and technical capacity, and reforms the Federal lease approval process for energy purposes."
Many of these provisions were heavily disputed within Indian country. National dispute over non-Indian measures eventually sent the bill to a conference committee of members from the Senate and House of Representatives. The House passed the bill out of conference, but the Senate could not and will take it up again, Indian-specific provisions included, shortly after Jan. 20.
The committee played a leading role in another issue of national controversy - the trust funds reform litigation that ended up the subject of a "midnight rider" amendment in Congress, putting a moratorium on congressional expenditures for a court-ordered accounting. After months of discussions with both sides in the case on possible mediated settlement scenarios, the committee ended the year with a strongly-worded warning from Campbell that settlement must be in plain sight within one year (before the 2004 presidential elections, if one takes him precisely at his word). Otherwise, Campbell said, Congress will settle the case legislatively, in a manner Indians won't like.
Away from the wattage of controversy, the committee continued its usual work in behalf of distinct tribes and Indian country at large. The committee oversaw the enactment into law of provisions benefiting the Gila River Indian Community in its use of judgment awards, and Zuni pueblo in its claims to water in the Little Colorado River Basin.
In addition, the committee referred to the full Senate a number of bills that await further action, either there or in the House. Among them:
*S. 428 would benefit the Assiniboine and Sioux of Fort Peck in future judgment fund distributions.
*S. 551 would charge the Environmental Protection Agency with treating the Southern Ute as a state under an accord worked out between the tribe and Colorado.
*S. 281 would improve tribal surface transportation based on proposals from Sens. Campbell and Bingaman, Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Tim Johnson, D-S.D.
*S. 285 would consolidate the functions of tribal alcohol and substance abuse programs, as well as reauthorizing the Indian Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1986.
*S. 555 would establish a foundation for the receipt of private sector gifts in behalf of the Indian Health Service mission and Indian health generally.
*S. 1146 would authorize construction of a health care facility for the Three Affiliated Tribes.
*S. 1601 would assist tribes in reducing child abuse on reservations.
*S. 523 would make technical corrections to certain provisions regarding trust lands, tribal fisheries and a newly eligible land grant institution.
*S. 521 would increase the length of leasing terms on tribal lands from 25 to 99 years.
*S. 558 would elevate the director of Indian Health Service to the position of Assistant Secretary for Indian Health within the Department of Health and Human Services.
*S. 344 would authorize a Native Hawaiian governing body in acknowledgment of special U.S. legal and political responsibilities to Native Hawaiians.
The committee also reported favorably on S. 420, that would acknowledge the Lumbee of North Carolina, and S. 1423, the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2003. Both are pending before the full Senate.
The committee moved two presidential nominations to the full Senate for confirmation: Dr. Charles Grim as director of the Indian Health Service, and Dave Anderson as the Interior Department's Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, or head of the BIA.
The committee hosted hearings on topics of Indian interest ranging from languages to health care, capital formation and homeland security.
Hearings are anticipated in 2004 on some of these subjects as well as a handful of others including tribal tax-exempt bonds, consolidation of federal economic development funding, probate reform, tribal compacting of non-IHS programs within DHHS, and government agency needs assessments of federally recognized tribes.
Hearing dates and times, once scheduled, will be posted on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Web site.