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Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise today to reintroduce the Tribal Gaming Eligibility Act.
This bill sets forth what I believe is a very reasonable, moderate standard for where tribes are allowed to open gaming establishments.
The standard is simple: a tribe must demonstrate that it has a modern and an aboriginal connection to the land before it can open a gaming establishment on it.
The new standard is needed because too many tribes in California and across the nation are ``reservation shopping''. They look for a profitable casino location, and then seek to put that land in trust regardless of their historical ties to the area.
To be clear, most tribes do not fit this mold. Most play by the rules and acquire land in appropriate locations.
But as wealthy Las Vegas casino interests search for ways to expand their gaming syndicates, the problem is getting worse. These syndicates have no interest in preserving native cultures and they have little interest in pursuing other forms of economic development; so they also have little interest in limiting casinos to bone fide historical tribal lands.
The tragic part is that these casinos are going up despite objections from communities and other Native American tribes. That is why I am introducing the Tribal Gaming Eligibility Act.
This legislation addresses the problems that arise from off reservation casinos by requiring that tribes meet two simple conditions before taking land into trust for gaming:
First the tribe must demonstrate a ``substantial direct modern connection to the land.''
Second, the tribe must demonstrate a ``substantial direct aboriginal connection to the land.''
Simply put, tribes must show that both they, and their ancestors, have a connection to the land in question.
California voters thought they settled the question of reservation shopping in 2000 when Proposition 1A authorized the Governor to negotiate gambling compacts with tribes, provided that gaming only occurred ``on Indian lands.''
The words ``on Indian lands'' were critical. This made clear that gaming is appropriate only on a tribe's historical lands, and voters endorsed this bargain with 65 percent of the vote.
But fast-forward 12 years and this agreement is being put to the test. More than 100 new Las Vegas style casinos have opened in the State in the last 12 years.
Unfortunately things aren't slowing down; the Department of the Interior has approved three extremely controversial new casinos just last year, some nowhere near the tribe's aboriginal territory or current reservation.
When given the opportunity voters have rejected the idea of reservation shopping. Two years ago in Richmond, CA, a tribe proposed taking land into trust at Point Molate to open a 4,000-slot-machine mega-casino. Proponents touted it as a major economic engine for a depressed area.
But the voters of Richmond knew the reality was far different. The project threatened to burden state and local government services, and it threatened to irreparably change the character of the community.
So Richmond voters made it clear how they felt by overwhelmingly rejecting the advisory measure by a margin of 58 to 42. Voters also elected two new city council members who strongly opposed the casino. It was an unambiguous rejection of this reservation shopping proposal.
Fortunately the Department of the Interior rejected the misguided Point Molate proposal. But voters in Yuba County were not so lucky.
In 2005, Yuba County voters had an opportunity to weigh in on a casino in this mostly rural and suburban Northern California community. By a margin of 52-48, voters rejected the proposal. Many cited concerns about crime as a reason they opposed the project.
But after the dust settled, the Department of the Interior decided to move forward with the project anyway. Despite the fact that voters rejected it and only one of the 21 public officials in the area polled on the issue expressed support for the project.
Moreover, the Department's claim that even one local official supported the project is dubious. The so-called support is based on a Memorandum of Understanding the County entered into prior to the advisory election. The county never offered a letter of support when consulted and still has not to this day.
As a former mayor, I know the financial pressures that local governments face, especially in these tough times. The temptation to support large casinos, with the promises of hundreds of construction jobs, can be strong.
But I also know the heavy price that society pays for the siren song of gambling. This price includes addiction and crime, strained public services and increased traffic congestion.
Some Indian gaming proponents and their out of state gaming syndicate backers would have us believe that these off-reservation gaming establishments are a sign of growth and economic development.
But a 2006 report, titled Gambling in the Golden State, paints a different picture. The report compiled a comprehensive body of research on the effects of casinos on their surrounding communities. The results were staggering.
New casinos are associated with a 10 percent increase in violent crime and a 10 percent increase in bankruptcy rates.
New casinos are also associated with an increase in law enforcement expenditures of $15.34 per resident.
California spends an estimated $1 billion to deal with problem-gamblers and pathological-gamblers, 75 percent of which identify Indian casinos as their primary gambling preference.
The report confirms what many local elected officials and community activists already know: casinos come at a tremendous cost.
Some have tried to mischaracterize my legislation. They have said it limits the sovereignty of tribes or it destroys the ability to undertake economic development.
But I am here today to say that nothing could be farther from the truth.
The bill preserves the right of tribes to acquire trust land in any location, provided they secure the approval of the Governor and meet the strict two-part determination standards.
The bill puts no limits on where a tribe can acquire land for any purpose other than gaming.
Because the fact of the matter is that most casinos are appropriately placed, on historical tribal lands, and there is no need to argue about the legitimacy of these establishments.
My legislation only deals with those proposals that are truly beyond the scope of Congressional intent when the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed in 1988.
I look forward to working with my colleagues on this important issue.
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Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, we have made great strides in improving the accountability of health insurance companies and protecting consumers from egregious practices. However, despite the progress we have made, many States still lack the ability to regulate excessive health insurance rate increases.
Health insurance premiums in the individual and small group market continue to grow beyond the rate of medical inflation. The Affordable Care Act has brought greater scrutiny to the market and we've seen some great progress. In fact, the number of requested increases in health insurance premiums beyond 10 percent comprised 75 percent of rate filings in 2010, and that has declined to 34 percent in 2012. This is a large step forward but without closing the remaining loophole not all consumers will be able to benefit from protection from unreasonable rate increases. Health insurance companies will continue to do what they have done for far too long: put their profits ahead of people. Rapidly escalating insurance costs strain businesses, families, and individuals.
Currently, 15 States still have little or no authority to block or modify unreasonable rate increases in the individual and small group markets. This means that even when the state's insurance regulators find a rate increase to be excessive, they do not have the ability to block or modify the increase. The Health Insurance Rate Review Act creates a Federal fallback for States currently lacking this authority. This will create parity across the country and give greater consistency of review and accountability for insurance companies seeking to raise rates beyond what is reasonable.
This legislation is a simple, commonsense solution: for States where the insurance commissioner does not have or use authority to block unreasonable rate increases, the Secretary of Health and Human Services can do so.
Affordability is vital to insuring access to quality health care. A 2010 survey by the Commonwealth Fund found that 70 percent of people with a health problem found it difficult or impossible to find affordable coverage on the individual market. This problem goes beyond the increased cost of overall medical care. From the year 2000 to 2010, average premiums for family coverage increased by 117 percent, compared to medical inflation which rose close to 49 percent.
Insurance premiums make up a higher percentage of household income than ever before, increasing around three times faster than wages are. This means that more and more families have to choose between health care and daily living expenses, saving for retirement, and education. This is unacceptable, and more must be done to protect consumers.
The Affordable Care Act made important steps forward in defining the rate review process and making rate increases and reviews public information. This has improved transparency but falls short of creating a strong rate review system in all States, and relies too heavily on the notion that public disclosure of rates will cause insurance companies to change their behavior every time they should.
I believe there needs to be a Federal fallback in states that lack the legal authority, capacity, or resources to conduct strong rate review.
In some States, like California, companies are not required to go through prior approval before rate increases go into effect. This means that when the California Insurance Commissioner finds rate increases to be unreasonable and excessive, he has no authority to actually stop or modify the increases to consumers. California is facing double digit rate hikes again this year and this legislation would help prevent such excessive increases.
Earlier this year the California Insurance Commissioner found a rate increase by Anthem Blue Cross to be unreasonable and the company decided to proceed anyway. This affected around 250,000 small business policy holders who saw an increase of around 10.6 percent, and when combined with previous increases the average rate hike over two years reaches 19.5 percent.
In 2012, proposed rate increases across nine States by the John Alden Life Insurance Company and Time Insurance Company were found to be unreasonable but went forward anyway. These increases varied from a 12 percent increase in Louisiana to a 24 percent increase in Wisconsin. These increases in the individual and small group market also affected Arizona, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Virginia, and Wyoming.
In some States, insurance commissioners already have this authority and are using it to protect consumers. This bill doesn't touch what they are doing.
In New York, because state regulators have the authority to modify rates, the average individual market increase for 2013 is four and a half percent instead of the initial request of a nine and a half percent increase.
In 2011, the Connecticut Insurance Department found an increase of nearly 13 percent by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield to be excessive, and approved a four percent increase instead.
Also in 2011, some North Dakota consumers on the individual health insurance market were facing a nearly 30 percent increase before state regulators stepped in and decreased the proposed hikes by almost half.
I strongly believe that we need to take action to strengthen the law so all consumers get the protection of effective health insurance rate review. I appreciate working with Representative Schakowsky, who is sponsoring the House companion bill.
I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting the Health Insurance Rate Review Act to stand up for American families struggling to pay for health coverage. I look forward to working with my colleagues on this important issue.
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