A long-anticipated attempt to “fix” dubious federal trust land decisions, advocated for the Chickasaw Nation’s leadership, fell barely short of passage this past month.
With both of the Sooner State’s U.S. Senators in support of a procedural move, the “Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act” was only five votes short of the 60 needed to advance toward enactment.
Oklahoma’s House members had previously backed the proposal, although it would have carved into legislative stone trust decisions that have advantaged Chickasaw gambling venues at the expense of smaller tribes and the state of Oklahoma as a whole (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/commentary-gaming-is-expanding-in-return-for-chump-change-will-the-land-fix-be-next).
The federal legislation had at least three different bill numbers as it moved through the House and Senate in recent months.
According to The New York Times, “lobbyists working for the Chickasaw Nation, based in Oklahoma, have reported receiving more than $1.6 million in payments from the tribe on federal disclosures that cite the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act as among their ‘specific lobbying issues’ during that time. Over the same period, the tribe has contributed at least $3 million to federal candidates and committees.
“In 2015, the House passed the legislation, which the Senate did not vote on during that session of Congress. Three-quarters of the 24 Democratic representatives who voted for the bill had received campaign contributions from the Chickasaw Nation. …
“And the Chickasaw Nation is only one of more than half a dozen tribes that have employed lobbyists to work on the issue. Holly Cook Macarro, a lobbyist who has worked on the issue for the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians in California, raised over $400,000 for a committee supporting Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, according to The Washington Post.”
If the “labor sovereignty” bill had passed, it would have changed language in the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act (IGRA), adding a new provision to the definition of “Indian lands.”
That new provision would have read: “(C) any lands in the State of Oklahoma that are within the boundaries of a former reservation (as defined by the Secretary of the Interior) of a federally recognized Indian tribe.”
The majority of national news coverage made no mention of the land issue, focusing instead on provisions that would have made permanent a controversial exemption the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) gave to the Chickasaw in 2015.
As reported by Indianz.com, that “ruling is the first and only of its kind.”
The measure created cross-pressures on members of Congress.
Republicans were largely in support of the changes to benefit tribal businesses, allowing Indian Nations to gain the labor law exemption federal officials granted to the Chicksaw in 2015. But some Republicans and conservatives were uneasy about the land fix provision tucked into the proposal.
On the other side of the partisan aisle, Democratic members of Congress usually supportive of measures backed by the powerful National Congress of American Indians (which advocated for this proposal) were opposed to adding more tribes to the labor law exemption. Perhaps the most prominent Senate Democrat who straddled the issue was U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who voted to let the measure advance in the unsuccessful “cloture” vote two weeks ago.
Indianz.com reported “The Chickasaws operate the largest gaming facility in the world. The tribe also operates more casinos than any other in Oklahoma or the United States.”
The New York Times, in its recent news story on the matter, pointed out, “More than half a million people are employed by casinos and affiliated resorts on tribal trust land, and a vast majority are not citizens of tribes. Thousands employed in other tribal enterprises could have been affected as well.”
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, co-sponsored the legislation.