The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs met on February 8, 2016, for a business meeting. Photo by Indianz.Com / Available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs advances nine bills at first meeting

Members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs are hoping bipartisanship wins the day even as Republicans and Democrats remain far apart on Capitol Hill.

The committee easily approved nine bills at its first business meeting of the 115th Congress on Wednesday. Almost all were non-controversial and most are supported by lawmakers from both parties.

“With the challenges facing Indian communities, this committee must work together," said Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the new chairman of the panel.

"I really hope that we'll be an island of bipartisanship when it comes to Native communities," added Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the new vice chairman.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Business Meeting February 8, 2017

The long list of items on the agenda guaranteed a strong turnout for the meeting. At one point, every Democrat and nearly every Republican on the committee was present, either to talk about their particular bills or to show their support for others.

Even Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), who is not assigned to the panel, showed up to voice support for a water bill that benefits a tribe in Arizona. "Thank you for joining us today!" Hoeven beamed, after noticing the new and unanticipated arrival on the dais.

But the committee was not fully united as the chairman brought up all nine of the bills for consideration at once. Although members agreed by a voice vote, three Democrats spoke up to ensure they were recorded as "No" on S.63, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act.

The bill treats tribes in a manner similar to states when it comes to federal labor law. While it enjoys widespread support in Indian Country, labor unions say it will weaken workers' rights and have been pressuring Democrats to oppose it.

The full list of bills approved by the committee on Wednesday follows:
S.39, a bill to extend the Federal recognition of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana, and for other purposes;
S.63, a bill to clarify the rights of Indians and Indian tribes on Indian lands under the National Labor Relations Act;
S.91, a bill to amend the Indian Employment, Training and Related Services Demonstration Act of 1992 to facilitate the ability of Indian tribes to integrate the employment, training, and related services from diverse Federal sources, and for other purposes;
S.140, a bill to amend the White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Rights Quantification Act of 2010 to clarify the use of amounts in the WMAT Settlement Fund;
S.245, a bill to amend the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self Determination Act of 2005, and for other purposes;
S.249, a bill to provide that the pueblo of Santa Clara may lease for 99 years certain restricted land, and for other purposes;
S.254, a bill to amend the Native American Programs Act of 1974 to provide flexibility and reauthorization to ensure the survival and continuing vitality of Native American languages;
S.269, a bill to provide for the conveyance of certain property to the Tanana Tribal Council located in Tanana, Alaska, and to the Bristol Bay Areal Health Corporation located in Dillingham, Alaska, and for other purposes; and
S.302, the John Smith Act, or the Tribal Infrastructure and Roads Enhancement and Safety Act (TIRES Act).

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice:
Business Meeting to consider S. 39, S. 63, S. 91, S. 140, S. 245, S. 249, S. 254, S. 269, & S. 302 (February 8, 2016)

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