Community , Government

State lawmakers to consider bills directly affecting Indian Country

OKLAHOMA CITY — When the Oklahoma Legislature reconvenes in February, a handful of measures aimed directly at Indian Country are among the nearly 2,000 new bills awaiting its members.    

With the state facing a multimillion-dollar shortfall and tribal gaming compacts set to potentially expire in 2020, two measures out of the Senate would potentially put a greater onus on tribes to help shore up revenue.

Under their current terms, the state-tribal compacts include “evergreen clauses,” which mean they carry on if both parties are still satisfied with the terms.

Senate Bill 1195, filed by Sen. Greg McCortney (R-Ada), would expand state-tribal gaming compacts to allow for betting on sporting events and “non-house banked table games,” including craps and roulette. In exchange, tribes that sign off on the extra provisions will be required to pay the state 10 percent of its monthly net winnings from each new game as an exclusivity fee.

According to a study commissioned by the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Commission, tribal casinos have paid the state more than $1.1 billion in exclusivity fees since the implementation of Oklahoma’s Class III gaming compacts in 2006.

A similar measure was introduced during the 2017 regular session but failed. On Jan. 19, the notion was among the amendments tacked on to Gov. Mary Fallin’s call for the Oklahoma Legislature’s second special session. As of press time, the second special session has been in recess since Dec. 22.

Additionally, Senate Bill 1206 from Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate) would require both chambers of the legislature to be included in compact negotiations moving forward. 

Brecheen, whose southern Oklahoma district straddles the boundary between the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, did not deny that the state’s budget woes and a desire to avoid tax increases on individual voters played a factor in the decision to sponsor this measure. However, he also said the measure is an effort to try to bolster the state’s position at the negotiating table while increasing accountability.

“If you look at most tribes, their legislatures have to approve these agreements,” he said. “For Oklahoma’s side of negotiations, we rely completely on the governor -- whoever that may be -- and I don’t believe that we are positioning ourselves in the best tactical approach.

“If we put more seats at the table, there’ll be more people looking at these agreements.”

Meanwhile, four non-gaming bills are also up for possible consideration this session.

Filed by Rep. Chuck Hoskin Sr. (D-Vinita), House Bill 2661 would designate the second Monday in October as Oklahoma Native American Day. The day is currently observed on the third Monday in November by the state, but with Tulsa and other communities across Oklahoma recognizing it in October in lieu of Columbus Day, the term-limited Cherokee Nation citizen said the bill is an effort to simply draw more attention.

“I’m just trying to get more people aware of it (Oklahoma Native American Day). The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes has passed a resolution in support of it,” he said. “If you can provide more uniformity, it will simply draw more attention to the fact that the day exists.”

House Bill 2999 from Rep. Mike Osburn (R-Oklahoma City) would allow for tribes to take out infrastructure loans through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program administered by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. Examples of projects covered by the fund include improvements to water or sewage treatment systems, watershed management efforts or drinking water distribution. 

State Sen. Eddie Fields (R-Wynona) filed a similar measure, Senate Bill 1574, in the other chamber.

Senate Bill 1026 from Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle) would allow for any federally-recognized tribe to enter into cross-deputization agreements with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

The regular legislative session is scheduled to start Feb. 5.