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Leading the discourse on tribally-driven, informed policy-making.
The Arizona State Legislature has not yet reconvened after it adjourned sine die May 26th. Some reports have indicated that proposed legislation regarding unemployment benefits is being discussed in working groups, but nothing official has been released.
As of this newsletter’s publication date the United States Senate has not yet passed a broad based follow-up stimulus package to the CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27. Yesterday afternoon, July 27, the Senate released a series of bills addressing relief from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that amounted to the Help, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act, or HEALS Act. The $1 trillion proposal includes individual stimulus payments but does not include direct relief to states and cuts emergency unemployment benefits from $600 to 70 percent of a worker’s lost wages.
On July 9, the Supreme Court issued a decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma affirming that land in eastern Oklahoma designated as an Indian reservation for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation remains tribal land because it was never explicitly disestablished by Congress. Last week, online chatter prompted concern about the potential for Congress to partially undo the Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt. The National Congress of American Indians even published a statement on the matter. Meanwhile, Oklahoma tribes are working to clarify their stance on the adjusted interpretation of criminal jurisdiction.
At the time of this newsletter’s publication, the Trump Administration has given no indication that it will extend the Federal Communications Commission’s 2.5 GHz Tribal Priority Window, despite the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic prevented many tribes from participating in the program. Tribes, tribal organizations, and public interest groups continue to ask the FCC to give tribes more time to file applications for spectrum licenses under the Tribal Priority Window because they were stymied by the exigencies of the pandemic, and could miss out on a major opportunity to expand their economic, educational, health, and governance operations through no fault of their own. Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel published an op-ed in favor of extending the window.
Policy Recap for June 2020
The Arizona State Legislature adjourned sine die May 26th, leaving a number of proposed bills on the floor. No word on when the legislature will reconvene. In the wake of Gov. Doug Ducey’s May 15 order that encouraged the state to reopen, COVID-19 cases have increased significantly. Casinos that had once reopened have chosen to close once again following the death of one casino employee who contracted COVID-19 after returning to work.
In Congress, the HEROES Act (a proposed new economic stimulus package) remains stalled in the Senate after passing the House of Representatives May 15. One reason for the delay is disagreement over how stimulus payments to individuals should be allocated. The HEROES Act proposes a model similar to the original stimulus payment, but senators are considering ways to provide relief to a more targeted population of individuals who need the money the most.
On June 15, the D.C. District Court ordered the Treasury Department to release the remaining $679 million in Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) money for tribes that it had been improperly withholding. The Treasury complied with the order by the June 17 deadline set by the court, 52 days past the original April 26 deadline for disbursement of CRF funds.
The coronavirus pandemic response continues to stall regular policy and legislative activity. While the state of Arizona opened for business this month, the Arizona State Legislature remains in limbo. The legislature is in session, but has been in recess since March. Meanwhile, the main topic of conversation in Congress is a Phase IV spending package, which is being called the HEROES Act. The House passed the bill, which includes a $20 billion tribal set aside for tribal governments within the Coronavirus Relief Fund, on May 15. The Senate has declared it "dead on arrival," and has a number of alternative recommendations to the legislation.
In a major regulatory victory, the Office of the Comptroller of Currency (OCC) on May 20 announced an increased focus on promoting capital and investment in Indian Country with tribal inclusion in the Final Rule to modernize the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). As our partners at NAFOA report, this will "encourage innovative partnerships between Indian Country and financial institutions to support community revitalization and development."