Fee-to-trust legislation would muzzle lawmakers

Legislation silencing the lawmakers on decisions ruinous to California?

That is exactly what Senators Anderson and Wyland and Assemblymember Garrick will accomplish if SB 162 passes.

They will also silence the governor, the Department of Justice, the attorney general and law enforcement, to name a few of California’s agencies, from opposing fee-to-trust.

For those of you who are not well versed in federal Indian policy, fee-to-trust is a process whereas a tribal government can purchase land (fee) and request the land be given to the federal government to be held in trust for them.

There are about 110 tribal governments in California.  Many of these tribal governments claim they are entitled to have thousands of acres of their aboriginal territory taken into federal trust for them.  Our tribal neighbors, the Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians (Chumash Casino), claim 7,000 square miles.

When land is in trust, chaos ensues because the land is, for all intents and  purposes, removed from the state. The few laws that are supposed to apply are not enforced. Local regulatory authority does not apply, nor does taxation. Fee-to-trust means big business because once land is in trust there can also be a casino. Indian casino revenue is untaxed and these casinos are virtually unregulated.  Public health and safety is jeopardized by the impact of thousands of gamblers.  The negative impacts include exponentially increased crime, burden to law enforcement and emergency services, and wear and tear on roads. 

Note, the United States Supreme Court determined only tribes federally recognized by 1934 are eligible to have land taken into trust for them (Carcieri v. Salazar).  Many of California tribes were recognized well after 1934 and per this Supreme Court decision are ineligible for fee-to-trust.

SB 162 is truly preposterous because it was a full bill substitution after Senate and Assembly committee analyses and votes had occurred.  It is impossible to understand how full bill substitutions can even be legal since the evaluation process in place to ensure worthiness and legality of a bill is castrated by allowing it to be completely changed after most, or all, of the evaluation process has been completed.

In the case of SB 162, no evaluation and review has been allowed to occur.  Given the complexity of federal Indian policy, the numerous past and pending Supreme Court Decisions and the significant destructive ramifications fee-to-trust has on the public health and safety, and California, it should be criminal for any legislation to be enacted that has not been thoroughly examined.

Because those in the know realize fee-to-trust is damaging, legislators often attempt to hoodwink the uneducated.  SB 162 does exactly that.  It feigns innocence by stating it would only apply to fee-to-trust for the purpose of housing and environmental or cultural protection.  Suggesting land in trust for housing or environmental or cultural protection will stay for those purposes is untrue because federal code 25 CFR 151 does not allow restriction of use of land when it is in federal trust. Once the land is in federal trust anything can be built on it.

This bill may be voted on as early as June 20.

Legislators had better realize that the taxpayers have awoken and are outraged by casino politicians and bills like SB 162. 

Ed’s Note: Kathy Cleary is past president and a current board member of Preservation of Los Olivos, which is engaged in litigation against the federal government. The group has standing to object to fee-to-trust. 

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