Civil rights

‘The Civil Rights Issue of Our Time’: Tribal Sovereignty Bill Passes Full Legislature

The Maine State Legislative Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday afternoon to advance a bill that would restore the Wabanaki Nations in Maine to the same rights as other federally recognized tribes in the United States. United.

Before the roll call, several Democrats on the committee spoke to their colleagues about the importance of their vote.

“I think that’s the civil rights issue of our time in Maine,” said Sen. Heather Sanborn (D-Portland).

“People often ask me what was the most important thing I did this year in the Legislative Assembly. I find it hard to say,” said Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt (D-South Portland), who will soon complete her third term at Maine House. “If we pass 1626 on the ground, and by some miraculous circumstance he passes, it will be the most important thing I have done, not only this year, but all my service in the Legislature.”

LD 1626 is one of the most high-profile bills being considered this session. The legislation would make a host of sweeping changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980, which gave the Wabanaki Nations less authority over natural resources, gaming, taxation and criminal justice than 570 federally recognized tribes.

Supporters speak to lawmakers about their support for LD 1626 and a series of bills that strengthen tribal sovereignty on March 9. | tag

The Judiciary Committee voted 8-6 mostly along party lines to push forward DL 1626 to a floor vote in the House. All Republicans on the committee voted against the measure, along with Democratic Rep. Christopher Babbidge of Kennebunk who said he would support an amended version of the bill removing all gambling provisions.

The bill has been in the works for years and stemmed from commissions, the most recent of which is a 2020 task force, that studied the economic and political implications of the Settlement Act. The bill, sponsored by Deputy House Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland), would adopt most of the 22 recommendations made by the 2020 working group.

The bill is backed by Democratic leaders in the legislature, but Governor Janet Mills opposes the legislation as written. The Governor offered a much narrower compromise, LD 585that would grant tribes control of a mobile sports betting market, along with tax benefits and a policy consultation process that affects them.

Mills vetoed a bill allowing tribal gaming last year and tribal advocates and leaders fear she may decide to veto LD 1626. It would require a two-thirds majority in the House and in the Senate to override the governor’s veto.

A Mills veto may prove to be an unpopular move as there has been an outpouring of public support for recognition of tribal sovereignty in Maine.

In one marathon public hearing Before the Judiciary Committee last month, tribal citizens, supported by about 100 Maine residents, testified in support of LD 1626. More than 1,200 people submitted written testimony.

Last week, around 100 allies and defenders filled the halls of the State Housejoining Wabanaki leaders in urging the legislature to pass LD 1626 with DL 906another measure of sovereignty that would allow the Passamaquoddy tribe to attack the unsanitary and deteriorated water system at the Pleasant Point reservation, which has been a long-standing problem.

Maulian Dana, ambassador for the Penobscot Nation, said the aim was to show the depth of support for tribal sovereignty.

“I think no matter how this all plays out, we’ve created a really historic movement and a lot of momentum behind these bills,” she said.

Photo: supporters of tribal sovereignty. | tag