Capitol Watch

The Native American Affairs Committee is continuing to hear and examine bills. This week, the committee passed eight bills along their route to law:

HB 2533-would appropriate matching funds to build Navajo and Hopi senior centers.

HB 2525-establishment of an Indian Education Advisory Board, which will replace the defunct Indian Education Director position at the Department of Education.

HB 2297-Navajo TANF services appropriation.

HB 2531-appropriation for private non-profit hospitals and clinics on tribal lands, made from the tobacco settlement.

HB 2309, 2310 and 2528-Navajo veterans’ bills. These bills would provide housing and social service funds for veterans.

HB 2532-appropriation to the Ganado School District to build a Learning Center for college-level courses.

Hopi Chief of Staff Eugene Kay, standing in for an ill Chairman Wayne Taylor Jr., and White Mountain Apache Chairman Dallas Massey Sr. also made presentations on various issues to the committee. Kay said: “How can we improve tribal-state relations? No one has ever asked that in the Legislature before.” Kay also likened the relationship between the tribes and the state to marriage, which must start with the “basic elements,” the shared goals of responsibility and stewardship, the care of those citizens who cannot care for themselves, and taking care to “leave the state in better shape than what they found it.”

Massey stated before his presentation that he was “here to give ideas of how we [the tribes and state] can work together to get things done.”

Committee co-chairs Sylvia Laughter and Jake Flake were careful to caution the tribal members present at Thursday’s hearing: “This is only the first step in the process.” Most of these bills still have to pass the Appropriations Committee gauntlet, and both chairs emphasized that the state treasury does not have enough money to meet each worthwhile request.

However, Caleb Roanhorse, Director of Planning and Development at Ganado, still felt optimistic about his bill, saying, “We obtained some monies from the Legislature last year for planning and development. We are confident that sooner or later, we’ll get our funding.”

A Day in the Life of a Legislator-Part 1

Rep. Sylvia Laughter’s day began early Thursday. She arrived at the Capitol before 8 a.m. to review the bills scheduled for that day’s hearing, and expected to be still working well after normal hours that evening.

Laughter, serving her second term in the House of Representatives, hails from the tiny community of Baby Rocks, located deep in the heart of the Navajo Nation. As a small child, she lived with the family of former Arizona Attorney General Darrell Smith as part of the Mormon Church’s foster program for Native American children.

However, Laughter says that, even after living away from the reservation and graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcast Communications and a minor in music from Brigham Young University, she still feels connected to her tribal roots. Before being elected to state office in 1998, she worked as a semi-professional singer, motivational speaker, and a television reporter in Albuquerque.

During her last term, Laughter brought more than $21 million in state appropriations to tribal lands, and hopes to do better this term. Rep. Laughter also is quick to note that her purview as co-chair of the Native American Affairs Committee is all 21 tribes in Arizona.

Next week: Part 2 of “A Day in the Life of a Legislator.” We’ll follow Sylvia Laughter around for a typical day at the Arizona Legislature.

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