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Removal Of Restriction On Distribution Of Certain Revenues To Agua Caliente

Rep. H. James Saxton

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Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 3804) to remove the restriction on the distribution of certain revenues from the Mineral Springs parcel to certain members of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, as amended.

The Clerk read as follows:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

(a) In General.--The fourth undersigned paragraph in section 3(b) of the Act entitled ``An Act to provide for the equalization of allotments on the Agua Caliente (Palm Springs) Reservation in California, and for other purposes'' approved September 21, 1959 (25 U.S.C. 951 et seq.), is amended by striking ``east: Provided,'' and all that follows through ``deceased member.'' and inserting ``east.''. (b) Effective Date.--The amendment made by subsection (a) shall apply with respect to net rents, profits, and other revenues that accrue on or after the date of enactment of this Act. (c) Agreement to Make Payment.--The Congress finds that the Agua Caliente Band of Mission Indians, in Tribal Ordinance Number 22, dated August 6, 1996, has agreed to make payments permitted by reason of the amendment made by subsection (a). The Congress expects the Band to make such payments within 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act.

Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from New Jersey [Mr. Saxton] and the gentleman from American Samoa [Mr. Faleomavaega] each will control 20 minutes.

The Chair recognizes the gentleman from New Jersey [Mr. Saxton].

Rep. H. James Saxton

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Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

(Mr. SAXON asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)

Rep. H. James Saxton

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Mr. Speaker, H.R. 3804, a bill authored by the gentleman from Palm Springs, CA [Mr. Bono], the former mayor of Palm Springs, would remove a restriction on the distribution of certain revenues from the Mineral Springs parcel to certain members of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

This restriction removal is necessary so that the tribe may move forward with its distribution of revenues to tribal members. I support the bill, and I commend the author, Mr. Speaker, for his hard work on this measure, and urge my colleagues to support it.

Del. Eni F. H. Faleomavaega

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Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

(Mr. FALEOMAVAEGA asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)

Del. Eni F. H. Faleomavaega

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Mr. Speaker, I rise today to lend my support to H.R. 3804, a bill introduced to help the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians who reside in the resort town of Palm Springs, the heart of Representative Sonny Bono's district, who is also the sponsor of this measure. The bill will allow the tribe to distribute revenues from its Mineral Springs parcel to all members of the tribe. Presently, only about 85 members are entitled to these revenues as the 1959 Settlement Act reserved certain lands that resulted in an unequal distribution of allotments to tribal members. To compensate members who received smaller allotments because of the act's reservation of lands, the act gave certain members and their heirs the right to revenues from the Mineral Springs parcel. That parcel is home today to the tribe's Spa Hotel and Casino.

I and my Democratic colleagues, however, have a serious reservation about this bill that I wish to express. Our reservation is that this bill, in effect, gives the tribe the opportunity to begin per capita payments to tribal members from gaming profits from the tribe' casino in Palm Springs. I am not alone in my hesitancy to condone these kind of payments. Rather, and most of my colleagues feel the same way, the authorization of per capita payments is one of the most serious flaws in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Although there are restrictions in the act to guarantee that most gaming revenues are used to fund tribal governmental programs and promote tribal economic development, the fact is that some tribes have chosen to make significant per capita payments to their members. Unfortunately, these payments often have the effect of reducing work incentives or have sometimes been made in order to create a supportive base among tribal members. I hope that tribes, including this tribe, will see past the short term and illusory attractiveness of per capita payments and continue to reinvest all gaming revenues into public programs.

Nevertheless, it is equally true that we are committed to furthering the Federal policy of self-determination and self-governance, and that if that phrase is to mean anything other than mere words, then it means that Indian tribes have, and we must trust them with, the same opportunities and decisionmaking capabilities as other governments in this country. Accordingly then, although we may be opposed to per capita payments, self-determination requires that we leave that decision up to the tribe, who as a sovereign nation, as a government, is fully vested with the power and wisdom to look after and protect its own people.

Mr. Speaker, noting these concerns, this legislation deserve support and approval by this body, and I urge my colleagues to adopt this legislation.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

Rep. H. James Saxton

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Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from California [Mr. Bono], the author of the bill, who has a longstanding interest in this issue.

(Mr. BONO asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)

Rep. Sonny Bono

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Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the gentleman from American Samoa [Mr. Faleomavaega], for his comments. The gentleman described the issue perfectly.

Mr. Speaker, not to repeat what has already been described, basically this is a readjustment of funds for the tribes and for the allottees. This is an agreement that the tribes and the allottees have reached themselves, where they have decided it would be a more equitable distribution of portions of the funds.

Mr. Speaker, I tried to do whatever I could to accommodate their needs, and this bill seems to fit within the needs that they are requesting. So I ask that this bill pass unanimously.

Mr. Speaker, the bill amends the 1959 Agua Caliente Allotment Act so that allottees may receive equal allotment income, and so funds from the Mineral Springs parcel of land may be used for the benefit of the entire tribe.

Agua Caliente has 319 members.

Under the 1959 act, 85 allottees or their heirs were given exclusive right to revenues from the Mineral Springs land. The intent of this provision was to provide a means for these allottees to make up for a $5,000 shortfall in allotment values. The attached materials fully explain the history of this shortfall.

However, the tribal government determined that implementation of this provision would have actually defeated the intention of the 1959 act by giving more to these allottees than others would have received. Therefore, the tribe has never made the payments to the 85 allottees of their heirs.

This amendment will finally make the good intentions of the 1959 act a reality. Under this amendment, the allottees receive $22,000 from the tribal government to make up for original $5,000 shortfall from 1959.

This figure was based on a 1993 appraisal of the parcel's current value, and was equally divided among the 85 allottees, and chosen by tribal members in a poll. The funds are currently being held in escrow in anticipation of enactment of this legislation.

To address concerns of a few of the allottees, I have placed in this bill language which specifies that the payments must be made within 180 days of enactment of this bill.

I have also included language requiring compliance with the August 6, 1996, tribal ordinance which explains the disbursement procedure and clearly states that this one-time lump payment to allottees cannot preclude these allottees from receiving tribal funds from the land in the future. This ordinance is in addition to the tribal council's resolution No. 22 of April 25, 1996.

In exchange for this one-time large payment, the allottees give up their exclusive right to funds from the parcel, so that the tribal government can use revenues for the benefit of the whole tribe.

These funds are particularly needed, as 50 percent of the tribal members live in poverty.

I have received over 50 letters from tribal members in support of this bill, which I enter in the Record as attachments. This is a good solution to a long-standing problem. I urge my colleagues to support it.

Mr. Speaker, I include for the Record a letter concerning this matter, as well as a copy of the Agua Caliente Ordinance No. 22.