Third ON Congress considers, tables appropriation bills during Hun-Kah Session

In the 2014 Hun-Kah Session, the Third Osage Nation Congress received the task of prioritizing appropriation bills to fund proposed spending requests while keeping spending below the 2014 projected revenue threshold. These proposed appropriation bills would use tribal money received from its revenue sources such as gaming and Tax Commission fees.

The Congressional body considered several proposed appropriation bills in addition to the 2014 Hun-Kah Session’s largest request, which was a bill (ONCA 14-10) requesting $3.3 million for a dual-use ON child care and senior center building in Fairfax. The spending for construction costs, however, is contingent on a third-party needs assessment to justify the cost and size of the proposed facility.

The following is a re-cap of other appropriation bills approved by Congress before adjourning the Hun-Kah Session on April 28:

- ONCA 14-21 is an appropriation bill (sponsored by Congresswoman Maria Whitehorn) to give Osage Nation Home Health a total of $232,851 to keep the program financially viable. The appropriation is geared toward helping fund Home Health for the remainder of the 2014 fiscal year.

The breakdown of the money appropriated to Home Health is: $80,000 for emergency cash flow which will only be used if the Home Health cash account falls below $30,000 as verified by the Nation’s Treasurer; $127,851 to pay for health insurance costs for the Home Health employees; and $25,000 to hire contract services for marketing and bookkeeping.

The bill passed with a 10-2 vote on April 7 with “no” votes from Congresswoman Shannon Edwards and Congressman John Jech. Principal Chief Scott BigHorse signed the bill into law on April 9.

- ONCA 14-23 is an appropriation bill to provide a supplemental amount of $125,000 to the ON Attorney General’s office to fund contract work regarding water rights issues for the Nation. Standing Bear, who chairs the Nation’s water rights task force committee, sponsored the bill.

The bill passed with an 11-0 vote and one absence by Edwards on April 10 and Chief BigHorse signed the bill into law on April 15.

- ONCA 14-12 (sponsored by Congressman John Maker) is an appropriation bill that provides $75,000 for a one-time contribution to the city of Hominy for water treatment improvements, equipment and installation.

The bill passed with an 11-0 vote and one absence by Edwards on April 10 and Chief BigHorse signed the bill into law on April 15.

- ONCA 13-72 is the Osage Nation Targeted Services Support Act sponsored by Congressman RJ Walker. The legislation appropriates $275,000 to the Targeted Services Support Grant program created under the Executive Branch by this bill.

Eligible and targeted entities who may apply for this grant program must be operating entities within the Osage Nation boundaries that include: rural volunteer fire departments – especially those located in communities with populations under 1,500; Emergency medical service providers; and groups or organizations that provide accredited trainings in CPR, first aid or purchases of automated external defibrillators.

According to ONCA 13-72, the Nation is authorized, but not required, to promulgate rules and regulations that base grant awards on the number of Osage households served, the number of individual Osages served and the amount of Osage property protected. The grant amount is capped at $20,000 in the aggregate per single entity that applies for the funding. The bill also states all grant funding awarded to applying entities must be spent in the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years otherwise unspent money will revert back to the Nation’s treasury at the end of FY 2015.

The bill passed with an 11-0 vote and one absence by Edwards on April 10 and Chief BigHorse signed the bill into law on April 15.

- ONCA 14-34 (Walker) appropriates $18,000 to the Nation’s Capital Asset and Improvement Fund for completion and preservation of the painted artist murals on the walls in the Congressional Chambers and lobby.

The murals, painted in the early 1980s, depict the history of the Osage and include several Osage families and officials, living or passed. Osage artist Robin Polhamus painted the murals and told a Congressional committee in a teleconference meeting she was not finished painting the murals and also stated she would apply a protective coating onto the murals when they are completed.

A timeline on future painting was unknown. Removal of the preserved mural walls will also be addressed at a later date as the campus master plan construction progresses.

The bill passed with a 10-2 vote with “no” votes from Edwards and Maker on April 15 and Chief BigHorse signed the bill into law on April 17.

Also during the Hun-Kah Session, the Congressional Appropriations Committee voted to recommend no action be taken on three other appropriation bills up for consideration to avoid spending above the FY 2014 projected revenue threshold of $44.7 million. At the end of the Hun-Kah Session, the Congressional Office reported that unassigned tribal funds total remaining was approximately $840,000.

As recommended by the appropriations committee, the following appropriation bills were not considered:

- ONCA 12-86 (Standing Bear), which requested a total donation of $500,000 to the University of Tulsa College of Law Worcester Sovereignty Project.

TU officials, including adjunct instructor and Indian law attorney Walter Echo-Hawk, approached the Congress in 2011 requesting a donation for its proposed Worcester Sovereignty Project intended for Native American law students at TU. The program would provide field study programs including externships and scholarship opportunities. This bill is tabled in the Congressional Education Committee.

- ONCA 13-36 (Edwards) is a bill requesting $500,000 to create a home loan and down payment assistance program available to all Osages living in the United States or its territories. In wake of the spending concerns, Edwards withdrew this bill on April 10.

- ONCA 13-33 (sponsored by Congressman RJ Walker) is an appropriation bill requesting $150,000 for the Nation’s community matching grant program geared at entities within the Osage Nation who request the grant funding to build facilities promoting active lifestyles and community growth. This bill is tabled in the Congressional Health and Social Services Committee.