The Senate Indian Affairs Committee sent a letter
to Interior Secretary Gale Norton on Wednesday, urging her to speed up consideration of land-into-trust regulations that have been on the back burner for more than four years.
George Skibine, the Bureau of Indian Affairs official in charge of gaming, has already circulated a draft of the rules after reviving them last year. At a hearing yesterday, he said they would provide clarity to the processes used to take off-reservation lands into trust for gaming purposes.
But after learning that Skibine lacked a concrete schedule for the development, consultation and implementation of the proposal, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) expressed frustration with the slow-moving pace. They said it was unacceptable that the rules aren't in place 17 years after the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
"I'm a little dispirited when you, sort of as an aside, said, 'Well, we haven't begun a consultation with the Indian tribes over proposed regulations,'" McCain, the chairman of the committee, told Skibine. "That means that we have a long way to go."
"I don't see how we can effectively regulate Indian gaming, and certainly exercise Congressional oversight, unless there's regulations to implement the law we passed," added McCain, an author of IGRA.
"This is a controversial and difficult issue and I think regulations are necessary, uniform interpretations are necessary," said Dorgan, the vice chairman of the committee.
McCain said the letter asks Norton to lay out a specific timeframe for the publication of the rules in the Federal Register, the final step in the regulatory process. Skibine indicated that could happen by the end of the year.
At the same time, he gave conflicting testimony about his schedule. Near the beginning of the hearing, he said it might be a couple of months before a letter can be sent to tribal leaders to initiate the consultation process. Later, he said there was no plan in place.
"As we do the consultation, we have not as this point figured out exactly how we are going to proceed," Skibine told the committee. "At this point we haven't come up with a plan yet, except that
we will do it, for sure."
Skibine, a career bureaucrat, traced the delay to the change in political administrations. As head of the BIA's Office of Indian Gaming, he had drafted and published rules for off-reservation gaming
during the Clinton administration.
When the Bush administration took over in 2001, the rules were shelved in late December of that year. The move came a month after the administration rescinded another set of regulations to set criteria for non-gaming land acquisitions.
In reviving the gaming proposal, Skibine broadened it beyond its original scope. His draft establishes criteria determining how land will be taken into trust under the two-part determination process as well as under the exceptions defined in IGRA.
The two-part determination process requires the approval of the BIA and the concurrence of the state governor where the off-reservation casino would be located. The BIA must consult with local governments and nearby tribes before making a decision. Since 1988, only three casinos have been opened under this process.
The IGRA exceptions apply to newly recognized tribes, restored tribes, tribes in Oklahoma with former reservations and tribes with land claim settlement. These exceptions have been used in at least 27 times since the passage of IGRA, according to government documents, Congressional testimony and public statements by Interior officials.
McCain has introduced a bill that would amend IGRA by eliminating the two-part determination process and eliminate all but the Oklahoma exception. He said yesterday he plans to hold more hearings on the subject in hopes of getting the legislation passed this year.
Draft BIA Regulations:
Gaming on Lands
Acquired After October 17, 1998
McCain IGRA Bill:Indian
Gaming Regulatory Act Amendments of 2005
Relevant Documents:McCain Floor
(November 18, 2005)
April 27, 2005, Hearing on Regulation of Indian Gaming:Witness
May 18, 2005, Hearing on Taking Land into Trust:Witness
June 28, 2005, Hearing on Regulation of Indian Gaming:Witness
July 27, 2005, Hearing on IGRA exceptions and off-reservation
September 21, 2005, Hearing on Regulation of Class III Gaming:Witness
Senate Indian Affairs Committee - http://indian.senate.gov
Indian Land Determinations - http://www.nigc.gov/nigc/nigcControl?option=LAND_DETERMINATIONS
National Indian Gaming Association - http://www.indiangaming.org