Chief Standing Bear vetoes two Congressional bills

Two bills passed by the Fourth Osage Nation Congress will not become law after Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear vetoed both bills during the 2015 Congressional Hun-Kah Session.

As of April 29, Standing Bear vetoed a bill calling for the Nation’s health benefit plan fund to be funded with $1.5 million from the Nation’s permanent fund. He also vetoed a second bill proposing an amendment to the Nation’s gaming law that prohibits the Gaming Enterprise Board from barring certain tribal officials from its meetings’ executive sessions.

ONCA 14-86

The Congress failed to override the first vetoed bill returned unsigned by Standing Bear on April 24. Standing Bear vetoed ONCA 14-86, which is a bill (sponsored by Congresswoman Shannon Edwards) seeking to replenish the Nation’s health benefit fund with $1.5 million from the permanent fund.

ONCA 14-86 passed with a 9-1 vote on April 17 with two absences from Congressmen Archie Mason and Otto Hamilton and the lone “no” vote from RJ Walker.

In his first executive veto message issued as Principal Chief, Standing Bear argues: “There is no need for any funds to be removed from the Permanent Fund. The Osage Nation Treasurer’s Office has informed us the anticipated carryover funds from fiscal year 2014 will exceed ($1.5 million). This amount will be unencumbered. The exact amount is expected to be reported by the Treasurer at the end of this month when the audit is complete.”

Because unencumbered funds are available from carryover funds in only a matter of weeks, there are enough funds available for further appropriation for the ($1.5 million) to be placed directly into the Health Benefit Plan Fund.”

Standing Bear sponsored legislation to establish the Nation’s $30 million permanent fund as a Congressman in 2013. In his veto message, Standing Bear also referred to the history of the permanent fund bill (ONCA 12-85), which he originally filed with language stating the Nation would increase the permanent fund annually with 15 percent of all gaming and tax revenue. The original proposed bill also called for the permanent fund to be established with $50 million of the Nation’s savings, but after debate and compromise, the permanent fund was set in law at $30 million without the 15 percent set-aside provision.

“We are going in the wrong direction by accessing the Permanent Fund instead of increasing its worth. Based upon these objections and justifications, I hearby veto this bill,” Standing Bear wrote.

The Congress considered a veto override during the April 27 session, which was also the last day of the Hun-Kah Session. But the override attempt failed with a 5-6 vote and one absence. A three-fourths vote (nine Congress members) is required to override a veto, according to the Osage Constitution.

During debate, Congressman Ron Shaw encouraged a veto override stating he was concerned the veto message did not assure him the remaining health benefit plan funding is enough to last the calendar year when the Nation budgets on a fiscal year (October-September). Shaw said he was also concerned the veto message did not say if the remaining funding is enough to cover the Medicare supplemental benefits available for Osages over age 65.

Walker said he supported the $1.5 million for the health benefit fund, but not taking it from the permanent fund. “I feel like it’s premature, unnecessary and for that reason alone, I’ll be voting ‘no’ on the veto override,” Walker said.

Congresswoman Alice Buffalohead said she is concerned, like others, that government spending needs to be under better control.  “I’m going to vote ‘no’ for this override because I think our very first priority should be for us to get together and discuss what needs to occur about our finances and that includes this branch and the Executive Branch.”

Edwards said “if this override does not succeed, I’m walking back there (to the Congressional office) and putting in a bill to keep $1.5 million going into that health benefit fund because we cannot keep piece-mealing, in my opinion, these fund appropriations. We should do them one time in the fall, make them sufficient and then we don’t have to address these issues going forward, but it was our failure to commit the funds in the fall that led to this now.”

The override failed with “no” votes from Congress members John Maker, Archie Mason, Angela Pratt, William “Kugee” Supernaw, Walker and Buffalohead. “Yes” votes came from Edwards, Otto Hamilton, James Norris, Shaw and Congressional Speaker Maria Whitehorn and one absence from John Jech.

ONCA 15-25

Also on the last day of the Hun-Kah Session, Standing Bear vetoed and returned unsigned a second bill (ONCA 15-25 sponsored by Supernaw), which is an act amending the Nation’s gaming law “to prohibit certain elected officials from being excluded from executive session.”

While the Congress members held Congressional officer elections for its committees, an Executive Branch staffer returned ONCA 15-25 with a veto message at about 4:15 p.m. and the Congress members learned of the veto following session, which wrapped after 5 p.m.

According to ONCA 15-25, the proposed amendment to the Osage gaming law states those who cannot be barred from executive sessions at Gaming Enterprise Board meetings include the Principal Chief, Assistant Principal Chief, ON Congress members and the ON Gaming Commission. The bill passed unanimously during the April 22 Congressional session.

Currently, the gaming law states those same elected officials and the Gaming Commission shall not be excluded from executive sessions regarding proprietary matters. At issue in debate over ONCA 15-25 is whether the elected officials/ Gaming Commission may attend gaming board executive sessions involving topics including personnel issues and attorney/ client privilege matters.

ONCA 15-25 passed with a 9-3 vote on April 22 with “no” votes from Buffalohead, Maker and Walker.

In his ONCA 15-25 veto message, Standing Bear said: “This legislation provides no protections on confidential and/ or proprietary information which occurs during an Executive Session … My greatest concerns are discussions on personnel matters. In the 2013 case of Red Corn v. Red Eagle, our Osage Nation Supreme Court described Osage entities governed by board members as ‘operationally autonomous.’ I believe it is important for the enterprises to have every assurance in law that confidential/ proprietary information of an enterprise is under the control of the enterprise and cannot be shared without their approval.”

During an April 16 ON Congressional commerce and economic development committee meeting, gaming board chairman Mark Simms and vice chair Dawn Harrington shared similar concerns about protecting confidential information such as personnel matters and attorney/ client privileged information.

When the bill came for an April 23 vote, several Congress members voiced support for the bill including Shaw who is concerned for sake of transparency. “Let us make that decision whether or not to excuse ourselves (from executive sessions), I believe the most transparent way is to let us decide,” Shaw said.

According to ONCA 15-25, the proposed amendment to the Osage gaming law states those who cannot be barred from executive sessions at Gaming Enterprise Board meetings include the Principal Chief, Assistant Principal Chief, ON Congress members and the ON Gaming Commission.