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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Carcieri Fix introduced in the House

The new Congress starts over on hot-button issue for Charlestown
Here comes the CCA posse!
By Will Collette

Get ready to hear bugles blasting all over town as the Charlestown Citizens Alliance sounds the alert that the Narragansetts are about to get approval to build a casino in Charlestown.

That’s because, once again, there is new legislation before the US Congress to reverse the negative effects that the 2009 US Supreme Court decision, Carcieri v. Salazar, had on more than 500 Native American nations across the US.

Further, Larry LeBlanc's recent land deal may make the CCA's case of agita even worse.

In a nutshell, the Carcieri v. Salazar decision arose out of a dispute between the town of Charlestown and the Narragansett Indian tribe over the tribe’s plans to build low-income senior citizen housing. The town saw that project as a stalking horse for a casino and got the state of Rhode Island to take the case all the way to the US Supreme Court. 

The Court issued a widely criticized opinion that the major federal law defining the relationship of tribes to the federal government only applied to tribes that were “federally recognized” when the law was passed in 1934.

Carcieri v. Salazar cast doubt on the sovereignty rights of tribes recognized after 1934, which includes the Narragansetts and hundreds of other tribes. Since that decision, various members of Congress have attempted to enact the “Carcieri Fix” to restore the rights the Supreme Court decision stripped away. 

Click here for a thorough explanation of what the Carcieri Fix would and would not do.

The CCA has taken the position that "fixing" the damage caused by Carcieri v. Salazar is tantamount to a Charlestown Indian casino ground-breaking, even though there are formidable barriers to that ever happening.

Long-time Carcieri Fix champion, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) of Hawaii, had hoped the Congress would enact his bill during the lame duck session last December. But Congress proved itself incapable of enacting anything, never mind a bill such as this. Senator Akaka retired with his dream unfulfilled.

When that Congress ended, all legislation left unfinished ended up flushed down the Capitol toilet, meaning that any new Carcieri fix legislation would require new legislation and new sponsors. That's what just happened.

Rep. Ed Markey (D), likely to become the next Senator from
Massachusetts Will he introduce the Senate version of the
Carcieri fix if elected to the Senate?
H.R. 279 has been introduced by Representatives Ed Markey (D) of Massachusetts, Colleen Hanabusa (D) of Hawaii and Don Young (R) of Alaska. A Senate version has not been introduced. The US House of Representatives passed a Carcieri Fix bill once before in 2010, but it died in the Senate.

Rep. Markey may not be around the House for very long to push the House bill. He is currently the front-runner to win the upcoming special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by John Kerry when Kerry was sworn in to serve as US Secretary of State.

In a statement explaining his reasoning for the Carcieri Fix legislation, Markey declared:

“Tribes from across the country – including those whose federal status predate 1934 and therefore beyond dispute – have been hauled into court to fight meritless lawsuits challenging land into trust decisions. In fact, a majority of those decisions authorized housing, health care clinics and other government services that are vital to the stability of tribal governments and the well-being of their citizens. It’s well past time for Congress to act by fixing this judicially-created problem and reinstate the status quo.”

Supporters of the Carcieri Fix are hopeful, but not overly optimistic. They note a lack of key support in the Senate and that several House supporters of the 2010 bill are no longer in Congress.

The Obama Administration has been a strong supporter of the Carcieri Fix. But in Charlestown, the Carcieri Fix has become something of a political third rail, even though there is virtually no support for gaming facilities of any kind in Charlestown.

The anti-casino hysteria may be fueled by Progressive Charlestown’s recent scoop revealing Larry LeBlanc’s sale of his 81 acres of land which is close by the Tribe’s 31 acre proposed housing development. Add the hints in the LeBlanc deal that there might be some tribal involvement in that transaction and you've got the makings of a paranoic episode.

While the CCA may see a direct connection with a Congressional Carcieri Fix and a Narragansett casino, I don’t. But I do believe that there are many good reasons – including a hedge against some future undesirable use – for Charlestown to attempt to acquire LeBlanc’s 81 prime, undeveloped acres on the Charlestown moraine as open space. If the CCA is seriously worried about a Charlestown Indian casino, and not just blowing political smoke, it's time for them to get cracking and get serious about securing that land. 

Click here to read my "Ten reasons why a Charlestown casino isn't going to happen" which stand unrefutted by the CCA.