Capitol Watch

The 45th Arizona Legislature wrapped up week two of its 2001 session without the Native American Affairs Committee announced by House Speaker Jim Weiers in a December visit to Window Rock, but progress is being made on its formation.

The House Native American Affairs Committee was Weiers’ response to concerns raised by Arizona tribes to the elimination of the House Rural and Native American Affairs Committee originally formed by former House Speaker Jeff Groscost during the 43rd Legislature. The new committee will hear any bills relating to tribes or tribal issues, and tribes have hailed the Native American Affairs Committee as a positive step in enhancing tribal-state relations.

Finalization of the committee’s structure and membership may happen within the next two working days—or it may not. In the meantime, several tribal bills are still awaiting committee assignments in wake of the committee’s birthing process.

Watch next week’s Capitol Watch for more on this issue.

The House also formalized new rules to govern its Rules Committee, which vets all legislative bills for constitutionality. Previously, the committee chair, or a majority of committee members, could kill any bill regardless of constitutional standing. However, the new rule, proposed by Rep. Steve May (R-Tempe) stipulates that a simple majority of the 60-member House of Representatives can revive a dead bill for debate. Word around the Capitol is that this new rule serves two purposes: it limits the power of Rep. Karen Johnson (R-Mesa), a conservative Republican, to kill bills that she does not personally like; and it helps Speaker Weiers achieve his goal of inclusiveness into the legislative process for members on both sides of the political aisle.

Wide Ruins Governing Board President-“Here to advocate for our children”

Laraine Lee, President of the Wide Ruins Community School Governing Board, is a lady with a mission. She was in Phoenix most of last week advocating for more transportation funding for her small charter middle school. Wide Ruins is located on a small all-weather road off Highway 191, about 20 miles north of Chambers. Like many schools on remote reservation lands, Wide Ruins students must endure two-hour bus rides on roads usually reserved for cattle and sheep herds.

Maintenance is a problem, with jurisdictional squabbles between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the counties, which both receive Federal funding for reservation roads, keeping necessary maintenance from the roads that desperately need repair, says Lee.

“People rely on us and expect us [the school board] to advocate. Our children are very young, and can’t speak for themselves,” says Lee. “Our roads are like cattle tracks. Rural people don’t believe that our funding is adequate…We’re taking money away from the classroom to pay for transportation.”

Lee was frustrated with Sen. Mary Hartley’s (D-Phoenix) objections to the Charter School Transportation Bill, SB 1026, for which Wide Ruins and other Navajo charter schools have advocated. “I want our legislators to come to Navajo and see for themselves what our conditions are….Pete Domenici, a New Mexico legislator, took a bus ride [around the Navajo reservation] and discovered for himself what the roads are like!”

Lee isn’t daunted, though. “We’ll be back. We’ll keep coming back until we get the funds to meet our children’s needs.”

Some tribal bills under consideration at the Legislature

Here’s some of the bills ACIA is tracking that could affect tribes:

HB 2296—Tribal-state agreements and tax credits: this bill will enable tribes to enter into agreements with the State of Arizona to assess and collect sales taxes, and more importantly, keep the tribe’s portions. Tribes that have enacted tax ordinances could benefit, as this bill should eliminate the question of ‘dual taxation.’ This bill will not affect the current Supreme Court case, Atkinson Trading Co. vs. Shirley, which deals with taxation on fee lands surrounded by the Navajo reservation. (Laughter, Jackson, Hatch-Miller)

SB1156 and HB 2151—Unemployment tax payments by tribes: This bill would require tribes to either pay into the state unemployment fund, or make voluntary payments into the fund. (Sen. Bundgaard, Rep. May)

HB 2305, 2309, 2310—Navajo veterans funding: These three bills would provide funding for Navajo veterans’ housing and social needs. (Laughter, Jackson, Hatch-Miller, and Anderson [on one bill])

SB 1024—Charter School Transportation. This bill would increase transportation funding to charter schools meeting certain criteria; held in Senate Education Committee, pending some reworking. (Jackson, Laughter)

HB 2030—Air quality on Indian lands. Yet another attempt to undo an old statute enacted in Public Law 280 days, which exerts state authority over tribal lands for air quality programs. (Allen)

Check out the Commission’s Web site, www.indianaffairs.state.az.us, or the Arizona Legislature’s site, www.azleg.state.az.us, for more complete listings of bills under consideration. And don’t forget, ACIA provides free technical assistance to community members seeking to advocate for or against bills, contact and meet with legislators, or tracking bills. Call us at (602) 542-3123 for more information.

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