The Black Mountain Bird Singers perform at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Parker Indian Hospital on November 2, 2017, in Parker, Arizona. A Computerized Tomography (CT) scanner is being installed at the hospital, which is part of the Indian Health Service. Photo: IHS

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs gets back to work after 'work' break

Reminder: Webcast scheduled at 2:30 pm Eastern

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is getting back to work this week by catching up with some unfinished business.

The normally busy committee hasn't met in nearly a month after a #SnowDay in Washington, D.C., ground its activities to halt on March 21. Lawmakers then went home for a previously scheduled two-week "state work period" -- one of several in this election year.

So this week marks the panel's first time back together. The business meeting and oversight hearing that were supposed to take place last month are now back on the schedule for Wednesday.

Two items are on the agenda for the business meeting. They are:
S.1250, the Restoring Accountability in the Indian Health Service Act. The bill seeks reforms at the Indian Health Service that have been sought by tribes but does not immediately address quality of care issues that have plagued facilities in places like the Great Plains. The committee held a hearing on the bill on June 13, 2017, when those quality issues were discussed.
S.2515, the PROGRESS for Indian Tribes Act. The bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, attempts to "streamline" the self-governance process at the Department of the Interior, with PROGRESS standing for "Practical Reforms and Other Goals to Reinforce the Effectiveness of Self-Governance and Self-Determination." The committee did not hold a hearing on the bill but similar versions were considered in prior sessions of Congress.

Immediately following the meeting, the committee will take testimony on the Trump administration's fiscal year 2019 budget request for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service.

Unless Congress dictates otherwise, the BIA will cut a massive cut of $453 million. Though lawmakers from both parties have said they won't accept major reductions, that request represents a whopping 15.2 percent decrease from current levels.

The IHS is seeing more of a brighter future. The Trump administration is seeking an increase of $413 million, though a large chunk of that is accounted by a shift in the way the $150 million Special Diabetes Program for Indians is treated within the budget.

The witness list for the oversight hearing follows:
Mr. John Tahsuda
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs
U.S. Department of the Interior
Washington, DC

RADM Michael Weahkee
Acting Director, Indian Health Service
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Rockville, MD

The Honorable Aaron Payment
Vice President, National Congress of American Indians
Washington, DC

The Honorable Robert McGhee
Vice President, United South and Eastern Tribes
Nashville, TN

Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Photo: SCIA

Despite the month-long break in the committee's schedule, its members have been busy advancing their legislative agenda. A day after the #SnowDay, they secured passage of six Indian bills in the Senate.

“The legislation we passed today will support Native American communities, families, businesses, and students – from my bill, which will attract capital and jumpstart economic growth in Indian Country, to legislation that will expand the AMBER Alert system,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the committee, said in a press release last month. “These important initiatives for Indian Country include priorities to strengthen public safety, boost economic development and improve Indian education.”

The AMBER Alert bill -- S.772, the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act -- previously cleared the House so it has been sent to President Donald Trump for his consideration. It was presented to him on April 2 but he has not yet signed it.

All six bills cleared the Senate by unanimous consent, meaning no one objected to their passage. The full list follows:
S.269, a bill to convey certain Indian Health Service properties in Alaska to the Tanana Chiefs Conference and to the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation. Legislation is required due to the way the IHS treats surplus properties.
S.607, the Native American Business Incubators Program Act. The bill establishes a business incubators program within the Department of the Interior to promote economic development in Indian Country.
S.772, the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act. The bill makes tribes eligible for AMBER Alert grants at the Department of Justice for the first time.
S.943, the Johnson-O’Malley Supplemental Indian Education Program Modernization Act. The bill requires the Bureau of Indian Affairs to update the student count for the popular Johnson O'Malley education program. Current funding is based on numbers from 1995.
S.1116, the Indian Community Economic Enhancement Act of 2017. The bill amends the Native American Business Development, Trade Promotion, and Tourism Act, the Native American Programs Act and the Buy Indian Act in ways that supporters believe will spur economic growth and increase access to capital in Indian Country.
S.1223, the Klamath Tribe Judgment Fund Repeal Act. The bill repeals a termination-era law that has hindered the Klamath Tribes even though they were restored to federal recognition more than three decades ago.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notices:
Business Meeting to Consider S. 1250 & S. 2515 (April 11, 2018)
Oversight Hearing on "The President's FY2019 Budget Request for Indian Programs" (April 11, 2018)

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