Navajo Nation Council approves Healthy Diné Nation Act of 2014

After two failed attempts to pass legislation that will add two percent sales tax on junk food items, law lands on President Ben Shelly's desk for approval

WINDOW ROCK - On the final day of a two-day special session, the Navajo Nation Council approved the Healthy Diné Nation Act of 2014.

If signed into law by Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, the law will add a two percent sales tax on food items deemed to have little-to-no nutritional value.

Following the passage of the bill, legislation sponsor Council Delegate Danny Simpson (Becenti, Crownpoint, Huerfano, Lake Valley, Nageezi, Nahodishgish, Tse'ii'ahi, Whiterock) commended members of the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance (DCAA), for their persistent efforts to promote healthy living in Navajo communities.

Simpson and Advocacy Alliance members previously brought forth two similar legislations, one of which the Council voted down last year and the other Shelly vetoed after Council approval.

"The members of DCAA remained persistent and determined and never gave up on this effort," Simpson said. "This initiative will promote healthy living and impact communities at the local level by helping to establish wellness projects."

If signed into law, tax revenue will go into a Community Wellness Development Projects Fund. The Navajo Nation Division of Community Development (DCD) will administer the fund.

DCD will distribute the money to the Nation's 110 chapters to initiate, match, and/or improve community wellness projects like farming and vegetable gardens, farmers markets, healthy convenience stores, and to pay for wellness and exercise equipment and supplies.

The resolution also includes an amendment previously approved by the Naabik'iyátí' Committee, which calls for the proposed tax to expire in the year 2020, unless the Council extends it.

"The Healthy Diné Nation Act is the beginning of addressing the dominate culture of unhealthy foods on our Navajo Nation, while creating opportunity for health and wellness initiatives across all chapters," said DCAA member Denisa Livingston. "This bill was created by the people for the people and we are immensely grateful for this opportunity."

Legislation No. 0177-14 was approved by a vote of 10-4.

Council members also approved Legislation No. 0171-14 with a vote of 14-0, sponsored by Council Delegate Jonathan Hale (Oak Springs, St. Michaels).

If signed into law, the bill will provide approximately $148,000 to Phoenix Indian Center, Inc. to pay for Navajo language and culture classes, information seminars and other initiatives.

Council members voted down Legislation No. 0172-14 with a vote of 6-8. The bill, sponsored by Council Delegate Walter Phelps (Cameron, Coalmine Canyon, Leupp, Tolani Lake, Tsidi To ii), sought to amend Title 24 of the Navajo Nation Code to require two-thirds of Council's full membership to impose any new taxes on the Navajo Nation. Currently, the law only requires a simple majority of Council approval.

With a vote of 8-4, the Council approved Legislation No. 0183-14, sponsored by Council Delegate Charles Damon II (Bááháálí, Chichiltah, Manuelito, Tsé Lichíí', Rock Springs, Tsayatoh). The bill will provide $1 million to fund eyeglasses for young and elderly people across the Navajo Nation, if signed into law by Shelly.

The Council unanimously approved Legislation No. 0229-14 with a vote of 14-0, sponsored by Phelps. The legislation would allow businesses on the Navajo Nation to file as a "low profit" corporation to promote business growth related to the arts, entertainment, energy, technology, education, sports, agriculture and charities.

Phelps previously said a low profit limited liability company is a "hybrid of a for-profit and non-profit organization, which is also called a L3C and is a corporation that needs to be socially beneficial to community development."

Prior to adjourning, Council members voted 13-0 to approve Legislation No. 0233-14, which authorizes the purchase of approximately 67 acres of land known as Rolling Mesa, located within San Juan County in Farmington, N.M. for approximately $980,000.

The legislation sponsored by Speaker Pro Tem LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad, Newcomb, San Juan, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tse'Daa'Kaan, Upper Fruitland), also included one amendment to keep the land in trust status instead of fee land status.

Shelly has ten calendar days to consider the approved legislations once the resolutions are sent to the Office of the President and Vice President.

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