Government

Congress passes various bills, resolutions in 2020 Hun-Kah Session

The 2020 Hun-Kah Session took place by electronic means for the first time with the Sixth Osage Nation Congress members meeting remotely for session and committee meetings where they passed several legislative items.

Bills and resolutions passed by Congress include:

ONCR 20-07 (sponsored by Congresswoman Maria Whitehorn is a resolution to “establish the consent of the (Congress) to the alienation of property and for the property to be conveyed to Osage Innovative Solutions LLC in compliant with the (USDA Community Connect Grant) Award” for the Grayhorse village broadband project.

ONCA 20-13 (Congressional Speaker Joe Tillman) is an amendment to ONCA 14-39 “to revise the compensation of the Chief Trial Judge and Associate Judges of the Osage Nation Trial Court in accordance with Article VII” of the Osage Constitution.

According to a fiscal analysis of the bill, the legislation increases the Chief Trial Judge’s compensation by a minimum of $10,800 per year, as well as the maximum compensation for research/ writing by $14,000 and annual expense allowance by $500 per year. The Associate Judges would receive an additional $500 for their annual expense allowance.

Congress members Shannon Edwards, Maria Whitehorn and Eli Potts expressed concerns with approving the pay increases with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which prompted the seven Osage Casinos to temporarily close thereby impacting revenue for government services. Congresswomen Brandy Lemon and Paula Stabler said they would support the increase noting the salary increase is time-sensitive and if it does not pass, changes in judicial compensation would not occur for two years. Both also noted the courts are closed due to the pandemic, so there would be no immediate impact to the Judicial Branch budgets.

Tillman said he spoke with the Judicial Branch and agreed “this is not an appropriation” and the courts would not be seeking an appropriation increase this fiscal year. “Going forward after Oct. 1, they are going to submit a budget we will approve that could be significantly less” and if the courts reopen by July, there will be unspent funds (due to the closure) to pay the judges, Tillman said. ONCA 20-13 passed with an 8-4 vote with Edwards, Potts, Whitehorn and John Maker voting “no.”

ONCA 20-19 (Second Speaker Paula Stabler) is a bill amending ONCA 19-90 to make an earlier appropriated $700,000 to the Pawhuska Village Committee instead of the Capital Asset Fund and to expand the appropriation’s purpose. The bill shifts the money to the committee “to pay for architectural and engineering services” for a new Wakon Iron Community Building and “any remaining funds will be used for construction and furnishing news construction on the Pawhuska Indian Village properties.”  

During an April 15 Congressional Cultural Committee, Stabler said the new community building project is on hold due to the COVID-19 financial situation and asked the committee to pass it onto the Congress so future money will be available for continuing the planning work. The bill passed unanimously.

ONCR 20-04 (Congresswoman Alice Goodfox) is a resolution “to support legislation in the Oklahoma House of Representatives to specifically add wearing tribal regalia by tribal students as an activity covered under the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act.” The resolution passed unanimously.

ONCA 20-24 (Goodfox) is cited as the “Merit Employment Act” to “establish a merit-based system of employment and its foundational components.” Goodfox sponsored the bill at the Executive Branch’s request and met several times with Human Resources Director Tiffanie Tracy, Congressional legal counsel and the Attorney General’s Office to work on the bill to improve the Nation’s merit-based employment system. The bill passed unanimously. 

ONCA 20-25 (Goodfox) is a bill “to establish reasonable employee pay adjustments for merited employees of the Osage Nation.” The bill passed 11-1 with Edwards voting “no.

ONCA 20-28 (Lemon) is a bill “to establish the formal standards used to promote the health and general welfare of the Osage people, culture, economy and natural resources through food and agricultural production.” The bill is cited as “The Osage Nation Food and Agriculture Act”

The bill – aimed at establishing food sovereignty for the Nation – adds a section to Osage law regarding food and agriculture including community gardening, food safety and healthy food procurement. Congresswomen Edwards and Maria Whitehorn expressed concern with the new regulations and definitions and questioned whether the Nation’s government entities are ready for the changes. The bill passed with a 9-3 vote with “no” votes from Edwards, Whitehorn and Potts.

ONCA 20-40 (Congressman RJ Walker) amends Osage budget law, which includes changing its title from “Budget Control Act” to the “Budget Process Act,” eliminating the Revenue Advisory Commission, removing budgetary outlays and the restriction on appropriations over 98% of projected revenue and to move the budget submission deadline by one month later to Aug. 15. 

Whitehorn said the outgoing budget control act has only been used once and the amended bill takes out measures to plan future budgets. Edwards said the bill “is a big step backwards” for budgeting and the Congress will have less time to get budgets ready for the Tzi-Zho Session when the annual budgets are considered for action. Potts said ONCA 20-40 did not receive initial consideration in a committee meeting and the bill section removals sections that help report what funding is available for budgeting and he would be against the bill.

Walker said the statements were “overstatements and exaggerations,” and said the Revenue Advisory Commission has been burdensome and cumbersome and “we need to focus on the here and now, we’re in a global pandemic and we are experiencing revenue failure, revenue shortfall, whatever you want to call it, we’re scrambling, we’re looking in our piggy banks to pay the bills.” The budget deadline amendment is an additional 30 days and is reasonable for the Executive Branch to submit its budgets to the Congress considering the Nation’s financial situation and uncertainty on when the Osage Casinos would reopen and what the revenue situation would look like. The bill passed 9-3 with “no” votes from Edwards, Whitehorn and Potts.

ONCR 20-06 (Whitehorn) is a resolution to designate Osage Nation Environmental Solutions (ONES) as a subsidiary limited liability company of Osage LLC. The resolution passed 7-5 with “no” votes from Congress members Scott Bighorse, John Maker, Archie Mason, Tillman and Walker.

For more information on the Legislative Branch, filed legislative bills/ resolutions and committee meetings, visit: https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/who-we-are/legislative-branch