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Poarch Band of Creek Indians face uncertainty

Bill Britt

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The Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) has two serious problems which they hope to eliminate through relationships with current lawmakers both in Washington and Montgomery, but those prospects are dwindling.

The tribe’s current worries have been exacerbated, given President Donald J. Trump’s hostility toward Indian gaming.

The Poarch Creek Indians were noticeably absent in the 2018 election cycle. There’s a good reason why.

The tribe did not energetically participate in recent elections, but they are planning a major push in the U.S. Senate race in 2020, when the seat currently held by Alabama’s Democrat Senator Doug Jones is on the ballot.

The first of the two problems PCI faces has to do with the Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA). The second arises from the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar.

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Under IGRA, the tribe can only operate games like electronic bingo that are illegal elsewhere in the state.

PCI casinos in Alabama operate Class II which IGRA defines, “as the game of chance commonly known as bingo (whether or not electronic, computer, or other technological aids are used in connection).” It further states that tribes may only offer games that are legal within the state. “Tribes retain their authority to conduct, license, and regulate Class II gaming so long as the state in which the Tribe is located permits such gaming for any purpose, and the Tribal government adopts a gaming ordinance approved by the IGRA.”

But if the games are illegal in the state, the federal statute forbids the tribes from operating those games.

In 2017, then-U.S. Attorney for the Middle District George Beck asked Gov. Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange about the state’s inconsistency on the legality of bingo machines. In a letter, Beck asked for clarification on how devices used at VictoryLand and Greenetrack are slot machines and the ones played at facilities owned by PCI not be slots. Or even more simply put, how can one be illegal and the other not?

The state continues to ignore the question of how can PCI operate the same machines as others outlets with one being legal and the other not?

The second challenge to PCI’s billion-dollar gaming operation stems from Carcieri v. Salazar, which holds that only tribes that were recognized in 1934 could benefit from the federal land restoration efforts. It is this recognition that allows PCI to offer electronic gaming and enjoy other federal benefits and protections.

Since 2009, PCI and other tribes recognized after 1934, have lobbied Congress for a “Carcieri fix,” to guarantee the tribes are safe from losing federal recognition.

U.S. Congressman Bradley Byrne in January 2018, successfully sponsored the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Land Reaffirmation Act, which passed the U.S. House on a voice vote. However, the bill died in the U.S. Senate after Alabama’s senior Senator Richard Shelby made it clear he would not support a “Carcieri fix” for the tribe.

For months after Shelby killed PCI’s “Carcieri fix,” Tribal Council Vice President Robbie McGhee assured his fellow council members that, if re-elected, Gov. Kay Ivey would write a letter to Sen. Shelby asking him to support passage of a Land Reaffirmation Act to protect the tribe’s vast gambling empire.

Indian council member says Gov. Ivey is ace-in-the-hole — but not so fast

Both Gov. Ivey and Senator Shelby have stated they would not support such an act. In May, both offices confirmed to APR that they have no intention of supporting any legislation to protect tribal lands now or in the future.

“Senator Shelby does not support the bill and has no plans to do so in the future,” wrote Shelby’s communications director, Blair Taylor, in May. Likewise, Gov. Ivey’s spokesperson, Daniel Sparkman, told APR, “Governor Ivey has no plans to write such a letter,” encouraging Senator Shelby to support a Land Reaffirmation Act.

During the recent election cycle, McGhee offered a campaign contribution to Gov. Ivey which she promptly returned.

In May, McGhee also informed PCI’s tribal council that he had secured the backing of State’s Attorney General Steve Marshall. McGhee reportedly funneled hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions to Marshall through the Business Council of Alabama’s political action committee. McGhee had counted on an alliance between PCI and BCA’s president and CEO Billy Canary to serve as a means to garner support from Marshall and other lawmakers. However, Canary’s ouster torpedoed those plans, and to make matters worse, Sen. Shelby’s chief of staff, Katie Britt, is poised to head BCA.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh in 2015, offered proposed legislation to allow competition for gaming revenues between the Birmingham Racecourse, VictoryLand, Greenetrack and locations owned by PCI. Marsh’s bill was scuttled by then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard who was relying on PCI to help finance his defense. Hubbard was convicted on a dozen felony counts of public corruption.

Political, Personal Interests Will Likely Decide Gaming Fate (But Should It?)

Despite McGhee’s many failed alliances, he remains the face and chief strategist for the tribe.

With Sen. Shelby and Gov. Ivey firmly against a “Carcieri fix,” and Britt’s ascendancy at BCA, the tribe finds itself with a dwindling number of allies in Montgomery and D.C.

There are talks of a gaming bill emerging during the upcoming legislative session. In the past, PCI has been unwilling to sit with stakeholders at Greenetrack and VictoryLand to reach a mutually beneficial compromise. Time may be running out for the tribe as the current political winds are not blowing in their favor.

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Economy

Farm Bill passes the House of Representatives

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, the bipartisan 2018 Agriculture and Nutrition Act, H.R.2, better known as the Farm Bill, passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill covers agriculture subsidies, conservation, rural development and nutrition.

The Farm Bill reauthorizes farm programs and directs the nation’s agricultural policy for the next five years. The House and Senate had both passed differing versions of the Farm Bill prior to the general election. Following the Thanksgiving break, a conference committee met to resolve the differences between the two versions of the bill. This is the conference committee version.

“In Alabama’s Second District, agriculture is the largest employer. It is imperative that Congress honor our commitments to the hardworking farmers and producers across the country,” U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) said. “The 2018 farm bill provides certainty to the American families who work every day to provide the food and fiber we depend on. I was proud to support this legislation on behalf of the farmers I represent, and I am eager to see President Trump sign it into law.”

The 2018 Farm Bill supports and sustains Alabama’s farmers and foresters by reauthorizing farm programs and directing the nation’s agricultural policy for the next five years. Despite recent gains in manufacturing, Alabama remains an agriculture state. Farming, forestry, livestock and crop production represent more than $70 billion in annual economic output in Alabama.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) said: “Our farmers and foresters are our future. I am pleased to support this bipartisan legislation to better support our farmers in Alabama and throughout the country.”

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“The 2018 Farm Bill will allow for improved crop protections and loan options for farmers, incentivize rural development, support animal disease prevention and management, and will continue our nation’s commitment to agriculture and farmers,” Rep. Byrne said. “I am especially pleased to see the substantial resources provided to improve rural broadband access to communities. Providing Internet access to people in rural Alabama is absolutely critical to economic development and the success of these communities in the 21st Century.”

Roby’s office said that H.R. 2 improves agriculture policy by: Providing a nationwide yield update for Price Loss Coverage (PLC), beginning with the 2020 crop year and allowing PLC to better respond to market conditions; Making several key improvements to Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC), including increased yield plugs and yield trend adjustments; Protecting and improving crop insurance; Investing in research, extension, and education projects; and Protecting farmers from additional costly and burdensome red tape.

H.R. 2 also strengthens the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) capacity to combat the opioid crisis and refocuses efforts to expand quality broadband to rural America.

The conference report to accompany H.R. 2 passed the House by a vote of 369 to 47. The Senate approved the bill yesterday 87 to 13. It now goes to the White House where it awaits President Donald J. Trump’s (R) signature.

The current legislation has been praised by farm groups for preserving safety nets for farmers while enhancing conservation and increasing USDA loan availability. One thing the bill doesn’t have is tighter work requirements for supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP – commonly still called food stamps) recipients, which was the major difference between the House bill, which only had Republican votes, and the more bipartisan Senate version.

Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan (R) explained that the farm bill protects more than just farmers. It serves to protect land and natural resources, develops new trade opportunities, levels the playing field for producers, strengthens rural communities and provides nutritious foods for underserved families.

“Alabama is blessed to have a congressional delegation in Washington that understands the importance of agriculture,” said Commissioner McMillan. “Our nation’s food security depends on strong agricultural policies that provide stability for America’s farmers and ranchers.”

With the President’s signature, this will be the first time since 1990 that Congress has enacted the Farm Bill in the same year it was introduced. It would also be the first time since 2002, that the new Farm Bill was enacted in the same year that the old one expired.

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National

Byrne remembers his cousin Sheriff Scotty Byrne

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in memory of his cousin, former Escambia County Sheriff Scotty Byrne.

“I rise today to honor the legacy of long-time Brewton, Alabama, resident and my cousin, G.S. “Scotty” Byrne, Jr., who passed away on November 18 at the age of 92,” Rep. Byrne said. “Scotty was a veteran of World War II, having served in the 351st Infantry Division under General Mark Clark, and later went on to serve as Sheriff of Escambia County for 24 years.”

“In college at the University of Southern Mississippi, Scotty was a premier two-sport athlete excelling in both baseball and golf,” Byrne continued. “He was the first athlete to be inducted into the USM Sports Hall of Fame for two sports. Throughout his life, he was one of the able golfers in our part of the state.”

“During his tenure as sheriff, he was a vocal supporter of the Alabama Sheriff’s Boys Ranch, providing resources for children in need throughout Alabama,” Byrne stated. “Without a doubt, Scotty was one of the most memorable citizens in Escambia County’s long history. So, on behalf of Alabama’s First Congressional District, I want to share our condolences with Scotty’s family. He will be sorely missed.”


Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.

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The Byrnes have lived in southern Alabama since 1780 when Bradley’s great, great, great grandfather Gerald Byrne settled near Mobile. The Spanish Empire conquered Mobile and Baldwin Counties from the English that same year during the American Revolution – the Spaniards were allied with the Americans.

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National

Shelby, Jones vote for passage of the Farm Bill

Brandon Moseley

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The U.S. Senate voted in favor of passage of the conference committee version of H.R. 2, the 2018 Farm Bill. Both Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) and Doug Jones (D-Alabama) voted in favor of passage of the bipartisan legislation.

“This bipartisan legislation provides much-needed predictability that will significantly benefit our state’s farmers and the entire agriculture industry,” said Senator Shelby. “I look forward to the lasting positive impact this bill with have on rural areas throughout Alabama and the nation.”

“This is a Farm Bill for rural Alabama and rural America,” said Senator Jones. “I’m proud that the final legislation ensures that our farmers have the support and resources they need to continue to do their important work. It also addresses several urgent issues for our state, particularly the need for expanded rural health care and broadband access. Since I arrived in the Senate in January, I’ve worked closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as well as farmers from across Alabama, to advocate for a strong Farm Bill for all of our rural communities. This bill reflects the priorities we share for a brighter and more secure future for Alabama.”

Shelby’s office said that the 2018 Farm Bill improves the crop insurance program, helps expand rural broadband initiatives, and includes many of the cotton industry’s priorities such as the continuation of the Seed Cotton program.

U.S. Senator Doug Jones today supported passage of a final Farm Bill that includes several key priorities for Alabama that he championed. The bill is the result of months of bipartisan negotiations in the Senate and House.

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The Congress passes a Farm Bill and is only once every five years.

Jones’ office says that it strengthens important commodity safety net programs and other protections for farmers who take on this risky and costly venture. It also provides increased funding for communities across the country and addresses issues from rural development to conservation to food assistance and more.

The Farm Bill includes several specific provisions that were championed by Senator Jones for Alabama’s rural communities.

These include: The Rural Health Liaison Act (S. 2894) which establishes a rural health liaison at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to better coordinate federal resources and expand health care access to Americans who have for too long struggled to receive quality, affordable care in their own communities.

The Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act (S.2772) expands the USDA’s Household Water Well System Grant Program to provide grants of up to $15,000 to low- and moderate-income households in rural areas for installing or maintaining individually-owned decentralized wastewater systems.

The Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act (S. 1676) which increases the authorization from $25 million to $350 million annually for the USDA to provide loans and loan guarantees for broadband services in rural communities.

The Community Connect Grant Program Act (S. 2654) which authorizes $50 million annually for the USDA Community Connect Program, which provides broadband grants targeted to the most rural, unserved, and high-poverty communities in the country. The program expands high-speed internet by providing new grants that will connect unserved households and businesses with modern internet access and streamlines broadband application process.

The Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act (S. 3117) requires the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to provide farm numbers to farmers with certain documentation, including in concert with Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Laws in some states. The bill also authorizes FSA to make loans to qualified intermediaries to re-lend to families seeking to resolve heirs’ property issues.

The Assist Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Act (S.2839) and the Next Generation in Agriculture Act (S. 2762). These two bills were combined to create permanent, mandatory baseline funding to educate the next generation of farmers and reach more minority farmers.

Agriculture is Alabama’s top revenue-producing industry, generating an annual impact of over $70 billion. With over nine million acres of farmland and more than 48,500 farms, the state is a national leader in food production and a global competitor in the poultry, catfish, timber, cotton, and livestock industries.

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National

Rod Rosenstein tours Huntsville

Brandon Moseley

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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein visited Huntsville Tuesday to tour facilities at Redstone Arsenal including the FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC), the ATF’s National Center for Explosives Training and Research (NCETR) and NASA. The visit was announced by U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town.

“It was an honor to receive Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein today and tour the many impressive facilities aboard the Redstone Arsenal campus”, Town said. “It comes as no surprise that the DAG was impressed by the growth and capabilities here. We began the day touring NASA, a remarkable ambassador to the 40,000+ employees that serve aboard the Redstone Arsenal each day. Touring NASA is always impressive. The FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center and ATF’s National Center for Explosives Training and Research and National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) facilities truly reminds us of the impressive advancement that law enforcement has made in order to stay ahead of criminal threats to the public. We were fortunate to be joined by ATF Director Tom Brandon as well. Our federal law enforcement capacities are tremendous but are only successful due to the hard work, dedication, and bravery of the men and women of all of our federal law enforcement agencies.”

Rod Rosenstein was appointed Deputy Attorney General by President Donald J. Trump (R). When it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had met with the Russian Ambassador twice during the 2016 election campaign, Sessions recused himself from the Russian collusion investigation. Sessions’ decision to recuse himself meant that he could not be a part of the decision on how to investigate the charges that the Trump presidential campaign had colluded with Russian intelligence to discredit Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton (D).

Rosenstein made the decision to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the collusion allegations against the President and his campaign.

Rosenstein has been criticized by the President and by many conservatives for his decisions in the Mueller investigation, which has continued to this day. While some Democrats have suggested that Mueller has found compelling evidence to impeach the President, Trump himself has said that he has been vindicated by the investigation.

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Trump recently asked for and accepted Jeff Sessions’s resignation. Chief of Staff John Kelly has also announced that he is leaving the administration. Rosenstein, however, remains as Deputy Attorney General.

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Poarch Band of Creek Indians face uncertainty

by Bill Britt Read Time: 4 min
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