Capitol Watch

House Indian Affairs Committee sets up shop

This week’s big news at the Capitol: The House Native American Affairs Committee is finally in business. Speakers Jim Weiers (R-Glendale) formally announced its creation on Monday, January 22 on the House floor.

“I have put together a bi-partisan committee of outstanding members that are very interested in our Native American communities and their important issues,” Weiers stated. “This committee will devote its time to a better understanding of the tribes’ unique needs and challenges.”

Weiers had proposed the committee in a December visit to the Navajo Nation after tribal leaders complained about his dissolution of the Rural and Native American Affairs committee in a move to streamline the legislative process.

After political wrangling in the Legislature stalled the start of the standing committee, ACIA assisted Rep. Sylvia Laughter in surveying tribes to determine their interest in an Indian affairs committee. The tribes overwhelmingly expressed their support for the committee, and tribal leaders wrote letters to Weiers supporting the committee’s formation. Other agencies and organizations, such as the Native American Community Organizing Project (NACOP) and the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA) followed suit and expressed their own concerns.

ACIA Executive Director Ron Lee said: “I’m excited about this new committee, as it complements our agency’s mission. It provides an opportunity for tribes to educate legislators about tribes’ needs, governments and cultures, while creating greater access to the legislative process. We have to start somewhere, and I hope that this committee will serve as a forum for cooperation between the tribes and state for many years to come.”

The committee will be co-chaired by Rep. Laughter (D-Kayenta) and Jake Flake (R-Snowflake) Speaker Pro Tem; other committee members are Representatives Mark Clark (D-Mammoth), Deb Gullett (R-Phoenix), Karen Johnson (R-Mesa), and Chambers’ own Albert Tom.

Rep. Flake said of his new post: “It is an honor that the Speaker has asked me to co-chair this historic new committee. I look forward to working with the tribes, and particularly those in my legislative district, as we work to better understand the special challenges to Native Americans.”

The new Native American Affairs Committee meets for the first time at 8:30AM on Thursday, February 1, in House Hearing Room 3. Among the first bills to be heard by the new committee: HB 2307 and 2308, which will continue ACIA for another ten years; HB 2298, which will enable the School Facilities Board to fund teacher housing, transportation, site preparation, excessive construction costs, and other related items in reservation schools; and HB 2296, the bill which would allow the Arizona Department of Revenue to enter into intergovernmental agreements with tribes to split sales taxes and possibly end the question of dual taxation.

Other bills to watch:

HB 2151 and SB 1156, the tribal unemployment tax bills. These two bills are the result of some changes in Federal tax law that could benefit tribes’ contributions to the state unemployment fund.

In May 2000, U.S. Congressman Dave Camp (R-Michigan) introduced HR 4556, which addresses a decades-old inequity in the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA). In the past, tribes were treated the same as private companies, which must pay a 6.2 percent federal unemployment tax and up to 10.9 percent in state unemployment tax. However, governments do not pay these taxes, but operate on a “pay-as-you-go” system, reimbursing the unemployment fund as necessary when benefits are paid to laid-off workers.

The bill, signed into law by President Clinton in December, and incorporating an amendment by Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), corrected this situation. Tribes may now make voluntary payments to the state unemployment fund for reimbursement as needed, as do all other government entities.

These two bills, if enacted, will change the state unemployment fund laws to conform to the new Federal law.

SB1406-Hopi TANF Agency. Senator John Verkamp (R-Flagstaff) sponsored this bill to provide the Hopi Tribe with its own Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) agency. Sen. Verkamp told Capitol Watch the first day of the session that he felt it important for Hopi to run its own culturally appropriate program.

Hopi Chairman Wayne Taylor Jr. said of the bill: “I’m delighted with the 45th Legislature’s willingness to work in partnership with the Hopi Tribe to establish a Hopi tribal TANF program. I’m especially appreciative of our bill’s sponsors, Senator Verkamp, Representatives Tom O’Halleran and Jim Sedillo, and the other legislators who signed on in support of SB 1406.

“The funds will assist in creating independence for Hopi, and help to make TANF fit the unique needs of Hopi people. The child support program will work hand-in-hand with the Hopi TANF agency.” Chairman Taylor also noted that the bill is another example of tribal-state partnerships.

New Representative makes a big splash in Legislature

Freshman Rep. Albert Tom, the ‘man from Chambers,’ is one busy man. He has already sponsored or co-sponsored 51 bills this session; some of his bills have as many as 14 co-sponsors. Rep. Tom has signed on to bills as different as a pedestrian overpass in Kayenta, to tighter disclosure on credit card marketing, to Alzheimer’s disease research. Tom is making good on his promise to work hard for the constituents of District 3, as are his fellow legislators, Rep. Laughter and Senator Jack Jackson.

Don’t forget to check our Website, www.indianaffairs.state.az.us, for up-to-date information on bills, committees and other doings at the Capitol.

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