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Rules Changes

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I rise today to engage my colleague, Senator Tester, in a colloquy regarding language he authored in this bill that would amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. This language would authorize chief executives of federally recognized tribes to submit a request for a major disaster or emergency declaration directly to the President of the United States.

The principal effect of this language would be to eliminate the current requirement that tribal chief executives submit such requests to the Governor of the State in which the tribal reservation is located; tribal chief executives would be permitted to submit such requests to the President without first obtaining the Governor's approval.

The tribes of Maine--the Penobscot, the Passamaquoddy, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, and the Aroostook Band of Micmacs--have a jurisdictional relationships with the State of Maine which is unique among the 50 States. Although, based on my analysis, this language would not in any way affect the relationship between the State of Maine and the tribes of Maine, to make this clear, I would like to pose some questions to the Senator regarding the intent of the language.

The jurisdictional relationship between the tribes of Maine and the State of Maine is set forth in the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act and the Maine Implementing Act, the latter having been enacted by the Maine State Legislature and ratified and approved by Congress when it enacted the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act.

If the language the Senator authored was to be enacted into law, would this in any way change the relationship of the State of Maine and the tribes of Maine?

Mr. TESTER. No. I understand that the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act not only recognized the uniqueness and significance of that jurisdictional arrangement but specifically provided that, following the enactment of the Settlement Act, no future congressional legislation would in any way alter or affect that arrangement unless Congress specifically so provided. This requirement is set forth in Title 25, Section 1735, of the United States Code.

Ms. COLLINS. Did the Senator take Section 1735 into account in his drafting of this legislation?

Mr. TESTER. Yes. I understood that, given the requirement that Section 1735 imposed on Congress, this provision would not and should not apply within or to the State of Maine unless Congress specifically so provided. Knowing that Section 1735 operated to that effect, I did not include specific language making this legislation inapplicable to Maine, as such language was unnecessary. Our Senate colleagues should understand that this legislation in no way supersedes Section 1735.

Ms. COLLINS. Did my colleague also consider the unique foundation for the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act and the Maine Implementing Act, as well as the subsequent acts for the Houlton Band and the Aroostook Band?

Mr. TESTER. Yes, I understood that the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act and the Maine Implementing Act constitute statutory settlement documents. Therefore, our colleagues should understand that the current legislation respects the intent of the parties to Maine's historic and complex settlement and does not in any way disturb the settlement agreement or the statutory construct on which that settlement rests.

The intent of this legislation is to improve communication, response times, and recovery of disasters in Indian Country while better respecting tribal sovereignty. I understand that tribes in Maine have a unique relationship with the State of Maine and nothing in this Act should be interpreted to change or degrade that relationship.

This legislation, if enacted into law, would in no way change the relationship between the State of Maine and the tribes of Maine. That means that, even after the enactment of this legislation, if any of the tribes of Maine wished to obtain a declaration from the President that a major disaster existed, they would have to bring their request to the Governor of Maine, who would have to consider the request in accordance with existing standards and procedures but who would retain the discretion to deny that request.

Ms. COLLINS. I appreciate the time and attention of my colleague from Montana, Senator Tester, regarding the intent of this language, as well as the care that he took in crafting this legislation.

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