Government

Chief Red Eagle to call Congressional Special Session Nov. 10

Osage Nation Principal Chief John Red Eagle is calling the Second Osage Nation Congress into Special Session starting Nov. 10 to consider matters including appropriating $8.9 million for the higher education scholarship program and $100,000 for the employee loan program – the targets of two bills he pocket-vetoed following the Tzi-Zho Session.

The Tzi-Zho Session, which included setting the Nation’s fiscal year 2012 budgets, wrapped Oct. 6 and shortly after, Chief Red Eagle pocket-vetoed two appropriation bills establishing revolving funds for the higher education scholarship program (ONCA 11-104) and the employee loan program (ONCA 11-114). He objected to certain criteria listed in the proposed bills as well as the plan to move the scholarship funding into a revolving fund.

“My intentions are not to eliminate any program which helps Osage people or employees,” Chief Red Eagle said of the pocket vetoes in an executive message. “I believe both bills establish unnecessary limitations on Executive (branch)’s administration of programs. The Education and Accounting Departments are fully capable of implementing and administering programs to the highest standards.”

In previous years, the scholarship and employee loan program funding were included in the Nation’s operational budgets with their respective department’s budget. During this year’s budget meetings, Congress decided to place those items into revolving fund accounts so each fund could be replenished when needed.

The Executive Branch is concerned that adding criteria for the scholarships into the legislation would not equally serve all Osage students applying for the financial aid. The branch also prefers the scholarship guidelines and criteria continue to be set by the Education Department which oversees the scholarships.

According to ONCA 11-104, criteria for the scholarship applicants to be awarded tribal financial assistance are listed in categories for undergraduate and graduate students. For example, undergraduate students would only be eligible for “scholarship awards up to the number of course hours required by the applicable institution to obtain a four-year degree.”

“Creating unclear mandates while also eliminating equal assistance to students attending tribal colleges such as Haskell (Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan.) is the current substance of the legislation,” Chief Red Eagle said of ONCA 11-104 in his Oct. 18 message posted to osagetribe.com. “Congresswoman Shannon Edwards, (ONCA 11-104’s sponsor) is correct; the scholarship program should be reassessed in a thoughtful and fair manner in order to best serve students. However, Education Director Ida Doyle and her staff need time to discuss, research, and analyze what is best for all Osage students.” 

Students who attend Haskell do not pay tuition costs, but are required to pay fees and on-campus housing and meals (if living in the dormitories), according to the University Web site.   

Ashlee Morton, legislative analyst for Chief Red Eagle’s office, said Executive and education officials are working on a new scholarship appropriation bill for the November special session.

Edwards said she was disappointed in the pocket veto but still believes scholarship criteria should be set into law. The Executive Branch and Education Department currently set the scholarship guidelines, which can be amended at discretion.

“I just feel like there’s got to be some criteria in writing,” Edwards said of ONCA 11-104. “If every time the Executive Branch came to Congress (to request money) and the answer is always ‘yes,’ why do you need us? To me, requiring some accountability is the right thing to do.”

The bill also requires a student handbook to be published and mailed to all scholarship recipients, which also concerned the Executive Branch. Morton said printing the handbook would be “very costly, so we can post it online” instead.

The scholarship funding covers students attending higher education institutions starting in spring 2012 while this fall’s semester scholarship funds were covered in the FY 2011 budget.

Chief Red Eagle also pocket vetoed ONCA 11-114 to establish a revolving fund account for the employee loan program. Like the scholarship bill, Chief Red Eagle objected to the guidelines set in the bill sponsored by Congressman Daniel Boone.

“Our major concern is the number of mandates in this bill,” Morton said of ONCA 11-114. She said the branch is in favor of the loan program being placed into a revolving fund, since it generates income for the Nation through fees paid for its use.

“Executive staff worked successfully with Congress to decrease the request from $605,000 to $100,000 for the employee loan program,” Chief Red Eagle said in his message. “This joint effort was in vain, as Congress insisted on enacting into law policies and procedures for the program... Executive’s responsibility is to manage appropriations. Separation of powers becomes an issue when policy and procedures are codified.”

According to ONCA 11-114, the Executive Branch would be required to submit policies and procedures for implementing the employee loan program for Congressional approval by April 2012.

Special sessions of Congress run up to 10 days and committee meetings are scheduled when needed to consider pieces of legislation or special topics. The Congressional Web site is at www.osagetribe.com/congress.