Rokita Renews Push for Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act


Republican lawmaker renews push for Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act


Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Indiana) addresses the winter session of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C., on February 14, 2017.

With a Republican in the White House and the GOP in control of Congress, will the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act finally become the law of the land?


A key lawmaker who has championed the controversial effort thinks so. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Indiana) is eager to get the bill, which exempts tribes and their gaming facilities from federal labor law, in the hands of President Donald Trump.


"I have not asked him yet," Rokita said of the new president's position on the matter. But he believes the bill stands a greater chance of becoming law with Trump in office.


"I'm not sure President Obama would have signed this bill into law," Rokita, whose top staffer is a tribal citizen, said at the winter session of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C.


The Obama administration did oppose the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act when it came up for consideration in the House during the last session of Congress. Still, the bill easily passed the Republican-controlled chamber, marking the first time it got that far in the legislative process, Rokita noted.


Yet the prior president wasn't the only obstacle. Democrats, who count labor unions among their strongest allies, also questioned the measure, dooming its chances in the Senate.


The bill is already back on the agenda for the 115th Congress, though. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved S.63 at a business meeting on February 8 although three Democrats asked to be recorded as being in opposition.


Rokita has not yet introduced a companion version in his chamber but plans to do so. "I am moving forward with this," he told NCAI. "This is the cycle to get it done."


To help with the effort, Rokita will be turning to his "secret weapon." That's how he describedMark Cruz, a citizen of the Klamath Tribes, whom he recently promoted to serve as his chief of staff.


"He’s taking the big leap," Rokita said of his top aide as tribal leaders applauded.


Indian Country began pushing for the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act more than a decade ago. Advocates argue that tribal governments should be treated like local and state governments when it comes to making employment laws on their reservations.


The National Labor Relations Board, in contrast, has determined that tribes and their enterprises can be subjected to the National Labor Relations Act. But the application isn't consistent -- it depends on numerous factors, including whether a tribal business employs non-Indians or caters to non-Indians, as most casinos do.


The federal courts have largely agreed with the NLRB's approach but tribes and their supporters say the parity offered by Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act will bring more certainty to their economies.
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