WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), passed the following three pieces of legislation at its business meeting:
· S. 2953, the Indian Health Service Accountability Act of 2016;
· S. 3234, the Indian Community Economic Enhancement Act of 2016; and
· S. 3261, the Native American Business Incubators Program Act.
Click here to watch the entire business meeting in full.
During the business meeting, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the SCIA, highlighted what each piece of legislation intended to accomplish.
The Indian Community Economic Enhancement Act of 2016:
“On July 14, 2016, I introduced S. 3234, the Indian Community and Economic Enhancement Act of 2016, with Senator McCain.
“I have one substitute amendment to be offered on this bill. The committee held a legislative hearing on the bill on September 7, 2016.
“The bill is a product of several committee hearings, roundtables, and listening sessions on Indian Country needs.
“This bill is intended to address access to capital and provide tools to build and promote Indian owned businesses in Indian communities.
“The substitute amendment would add a number of technical and clarifying refinements to the bill.
“It would provide more agency accountability under the Buy Indian Act and in coordinating and developing initiatives to help Indian businesses.
“It would add a Government Accountability Office study on the federal capitalization programs available for Indian tribes and businesses, the barriers in accessing these programs, and recommendations for addressing these barriers.
“The amendment requires that not less than fifty percent of the total Social and Economic Development funding be used for the economic development grant priorities under the Native American Programs Act.
“I look forward to moving this bill expeditiously through Congress as well.”
The Indian Health Service Accountability Act:
“I introduced S. 2953 along with Senator John Thune on May 19, 2016. Senators McCain and Rounds have joined as cosponsors.
“On June 17, 2016, the committee held a hearing in Rapid City, South Dakota.
“This bill is a critical first step on the road to reform, because it targets the core of dysfunction within the Indian Health Service.
“I intend to offer a substitute amendment, which is based on feedback from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Indian Health Service, and Office of Inspector General, as well as the Government Accountability Office, Indian tribes, and tribal health organizations.
“This bill is the outcome of months of committee investigation, the oversight hearing and listening session in February, the 2010 Dorgan Report, and countless emails, phone calls, and meetings with stakeholders.
“There is no question that in delivering health care services, the patient is the priority, not job security. It is undeniable that the Indian Health Service needs employees to deliver health care services – and there are many dedicated ones working for the agency.
“The Indian Health Service also needs the tools to deal appropriately with bad employees and reward the exemplary ones. There should be a balance between employee rights and accountability.
“As a doctor, I am deeply troubled that there is currently an imbalance which has been affecting the service delivery to patients. We are trying to correct that imbalance in this bill.
“We are also working to ensure the funding is spent correctly. The Indian Health Service funding has increased by forty-three percent since 2008.
“During the course of our review, we found out that significant sums were spent on unrelated expenses such as interior decorating, not patient care.
“We must ensure that the agency can appropriately manage its fund and the spending is in the best interest of the patients.
“Any surplus should be used for certain core functions of Indian health care delivery. The substitute amendment is intended to strengthen these accountability and transparency requirements for the Indian Health Service.
“The substitute amendment would also require the Indian Health Service work with Indian tribes in developing a meaningful policy on tribal consultation.
“I would like to thank all those who helped in making this bill stronger and I was pleased during our hearing in South Dakota that the Department of Health and Human Services has come out in support of this bill.
I want to keep working with you Senator Tester, and the rest of the committee, to continue improving the Indian health care system.
“This bill has the potential to save lives, so we need to work together to get this bill through Congress and send it to the president.”
Later in the meeting, Chairman Barrasso continued:
“This committee has continued to hear about the problems at the IHS, which we address in this bill. We have heard about them since 2010 and nothing has been done.
“The issue being raised involves the Constitutionality of provisions in the IHS bill that are similar to the removal provisions in the VA reform law, which has been challenged in federal court. We have worked closely with the Congressional Research Service, the Senate Legislative Counsel and other legal experts to consider the Constitutionality of this bill. In fact, CRS and Senate Legislative Counsel assisted staff in the drafting of this bill to strengthen the due process protection of Indian Health Service employees.
“This bill is distinguishable from the VA reform law. We have different timelines for notice and for appeal. In addition, the bill requires administrative law judges, who are presidential appointees, to be involved in the administrative appeal process.
“If challenged, I am confident this bill will be upheld. I encourage each and every member of the committee to support reform that we all know is so badly needed.”
The Native American Business Incubators Program Act:
“On July 14, 2016, Vice Chairman Tester introduced S. 3261, the Native American Business Incubators Program Act, along with Senators Cantwell and Udall. Senator Murkowski has also joined as a cosponsor.
“This bill develops a program to develop Native businesses and entrepreneurs. The committee held a legislative hearing on the bill on September 7, 2016.”