Washington in brief
AKAKA BILL TO GET ITS CHANCE IN NEXT CONGRESS
The Hawaii senatorial delegation reached a compromise Oct. 11 that is meant
to bring the Akaka Bill to the Senate floor for debate and a roll call vote
no later than August 2005, during the 109th Congress. The agreement cleared
the way for Senate passage of 32 bills packaged by the Senate Energy and
Natural Resources Committee.
The compromise, arrived at during public discussion on the Senate floor and
in letters from Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the Senate majority leader, and
minority leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., released Republican holds on S. 344,
the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act. The lifting of the holds
in turn led Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, to remove the bill as an
attachment to an appropriations measure that had advanced to the Senate
floor. If the compromise had not been reached, Inouye's rider would have
forced the Senate to either pass an appropriations bill with S. 344
attached, or avoid an appropriations vote that would have left important
government services unfunded.
The hold is a Senate institution. A senator can place a hold on any bill
anonymously; a "gentlemen's agreement" obtains, to the effect that Senate
leadership and the principals will not make known the name of the
senator(s) who has placed the hold. The name tends to emerge when a deal to
overcome objections to the bill is in the works, though this is not always
In this case, however, Hawaii's Republican Gov. Linda Lingle had identified
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., as one author of the hold. Kyl, along with fellow
Arizona Republican Pete Domenici, chairman of the Energy and Natural
Resources Committee, pledged on the Senate floor to debate and vote on the
bill no later than Aug. 7, 2005. In the Frist and Daschle letters, the two
party leaders pledged their best efforts toward the same result.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, the bill's lead sponsor and namesake, said he
was "confident in the leadership's commitment." The Senate Committee on
Indian Affairs has reported versions of the bill to the full Senate four
times in five years. In the House of Representatives, it has also passed
the Resources Committee.
"I have always said that a bill of this importance deserves the full
attention of the United States Senate," Akaka said. "While I am
disappointed that we could not reach agreement for consideration of S. 344
prior to the adjournment of the 108th Congress, I feel good about the
commitment made today that we will no longer endure the procedural
shenanigans that have prevented the Senate's consideration of this bill for
the past five years.
"We will reintroduce the bill at the opening of the 109th Congress and work
with the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to expedite the committee's
consideration of the legislation so that we can get to the Senate floor as
soon as possible."
Inouye, outgoing vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs,
added, "I am pleased by the agreement we have reached, and I look forward
to a full and robust debate in the United States Senate on this important
bill, which, I believe, has much support from my colleagues in the 108th
KYL WATER SETTLEMENT BILL HEADS TO HOUSE
The Arizona Water Settlements Act passed the Senate by a unanimous consent
vote Oct. 10 and now heads to the House of Representatives, where the
bill's backers expect a vote to be taken following the Nov. 2 elections.
The House adjourned Oct. 9, with the Senate following suit Oct. 12. Both
chambers are scheduled to reconvene Nov. 16.
S. 437 would settle longstanding water claims of the Gila River Indian
Community and the Tohono O'odham Nation, among numerous other parties. The
nation's Schuk Toak District and the San Xavier Indian Reservation, both
near Tucson, would gain access to water as well. The San Carlos Apache,
White Mountain Apache, and other Arizona tribes are targeted for funding
toward negotiations that would settle their water rights claims. The bill
would also settle a dispute between Arizona and the federal government over
the state's obligations for the federally constructed Central Arizona
Project, a canal diverting water from the Colorado River to Phoenix and
Sponsored by Arizona Republican Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, along with
Tim Johnson, D-S.D., the bill has been a subject of intense negotiations
for more than a year. Most recently, New Mexico Sens. Pete Domenici,
Republican chairman of the Senate Energy and Resources Committee, and Jeff
Bingaman, the committee's ranking Democrat, moved the bill to the full
Senate floor after assuring their state's access to Gila River water under
the Colorado River Basin Project Act of 1968.
The Navajo Nation could also benefit from S. 437 as it presses claims to
New Mexico's San Juan River basin. A Navajo-Gallup (N.M.) pipeline project
fulfilling the claims is in a "feasibility study phase," according to a
Domenici press release. Water for the pipeline is set aside in the bill,
contingent on a Navajo water rights settlement in Arizona.
Under provisions of the bill, a Secretary of Interior report is due in 2016
on progress toward tribal water rights settlements in Arizona, a measure
expected to maintain pressure on all parties to continue negotiations.
COMMITTEE LEADERS QUESTION NARF ON WISECRACKING ATTORNEY
Ranking members of the lead congressional committees on Indian-specific
legislation have asked the Native American Rights Fund to explain its
position on comments attributed to Dennis Gingold, a plaintiff attorney in
the class action lawsuit brought against the government by individual
Indian trust accountholders. NARF also represents the plaintiff class.
According to a Gallup (N.M.) Independent newspaper account of an Oct. 4
meeting between plaintiff attorneys and Navajo trust beneficiaries, Gingold
compared Interior Secretary Gale Norton, a defendant in the case, to
General George Armstrong Custer - only "worse" - and recommended she
"should be given the same treatment."
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., a Northern Cheyenne tribal member
and chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, expressed his great
aggravation with the alleged comments in an interview with Indian Country
Today. At a minimum, he said, they were not helpful to the ongoing
mediation of the lawsuit.
The congressional letter terms Gingold's alleged remark "outrageous, if not
dangerous, in its implications" - as well as "reprehensible and completely
improper in any context - let alone a situation in which the parties are
involved in exceedingly difficult settlement negotiations."
The letter also allows the comments may have been "flippantly made":
"We understand that a Native American Rights Fund attorney [Keith Harper,
according to the published account] was present with Mr. Gingold at the
time of the comments and are curious to know whether your organization is
associating itself with remarks that, even if flippantly made, suggest that
the cabinet officer responsible for Indian affairs should be 'given the
same treatment' as Custer - that is, treated with physical violence."
Campbell signed the letter, dated Oct. 8 and addressed to NARF executive
director John Echohawk, along with Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, the
committee vice-chairman. Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the
Committee on Resources in the House of Representatives, and Rep. Nick
Rahall, D-W.Va., the committee's ranking Democrat, also signed the letter.
NARF, a non-profit organization, has been a recipient of federal funds
through past grants from the Administration for Native Americans. The
federal government, by court order on occasion, pays plaintiff attorney
costs in the trust funds case. Gingold works with NARF attorneys on the
trust funds lawsuit, representing the broad class of Indian plaintiffs. He
is not directly employed by NARF.
NARF attorneys had not responded to a request for their reaction to the
letter by press time.