The U.S. Senate is debating and voting on a bill that would permit Arizona's White Mountain Apache Tribe to use water settlement funds for a new water system. The measure is sponsored by Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and became more controversial when the House tacked on an labor measure which would exclude Tribal Nations - and their business enterprises - from the National Labor Relations Act and allowing their employees to form unions.
Flake spoke in favor of the amended bill today as debate began. (The text of the bill and the transcript of his remarks are below.)
Mr. President, Indian water settlements are an invaluable tool to ensure that tribes receive the water rights they are entitled to and that other water users are given the certainty they require. In states like my home state of Arizona, water rights have a substantial impact on the lives and livelihoods of many residents. These measures are critical to communities around Arizona. I rise today in support of legislation I introduced aimed at ensuring the previously enacted White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Rights Qualification Act of 2010 is being properly interpreted by the Department of the Interior. This bill clarifies that settlement funds awarded to the Tribe may be used for a critical rural water system. This new system is essential for the Tribe and will allow them to deliver drinking water to their members. The measure I am proposing today is also time sensitive. The White Mountain settlement includes an enforceability date that means if this water system project is not completely approved by May 2021 it becomes void. In order to realistically meet this deadline, this bill must pass as soon as possible so the Tribe has the time to complete the necessary project studies. This bill also corrects an issue with the National Labor Relations Act.For nearly seventy years, tribal governments were exempt from the Act, just like local, state, and federal governments. However in 2004, the NLRB inappropriately ruled that tribes were no longer exempt. This measure would create parity for tribal governments, giving them the same employer rights afforded to other federal, state, and local governments. Importantly, this element of the bill only applies to tribal employers on tribal lands – meaning any tribally owned and operated institutions not on tribal land would still be treated as normal, private-sector employers. This bill offers these two important clarifications, one of which is desperately needed to allow the White Mountain Apache Tribe to move forward on a vital rural water system project. I urge the bill’s passage so we can ensure tribes are best able to serve their people and improve their communities.If you would like to show your appreciation for Arizona's Politics reporting, please consider donating to our pool to support OTHER journalism-related nonprofits.
Arizona Rep. Tom O'Halleran was the only Arizona Democrat who voted with the Republican majority in the House in January.
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