January 17, 2020

Udall Highlights 2019 Legislative Accomplishments for Indian Country

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, released a summary of his Indian Affairs 2019 legislative accomplishments, including 12 Indian Affairs Committee bills passing the Senate and six becoming law, such as the Udall-authored Esther Martinez Native Languages Revitalization Act.  

“The federal government has a solemn trust responsibility to Tribes, and in 2019, we worked diligently to live up to that responsibility to achieve Indian Country’s legislative priorities,” Udall said. “I am grateful to the many Native voices across the country who assisted us by contributing their time, expertise, and experience to advance Tribal public safety, and improve health and economic security in Indian Country. But more work remains– especially to improve Tribal budgetary certainty, keep Native communities safe and healthy, and protect vital cultural resources. I look forward to continuing this work in 2020 and beyond.”

Udall introduced and cosponsored 22 bills referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Of the 22 bills, the committee took action on 13. One was passed into law, and three passed the Senate. 

Udall also delivered speeches on the Senate floor to highlight the impact of the January 2019 government shutdown and to mark the national day of action on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis. 

In December, Udall led a bipartisan Member of Congress amicus brief to the en banc 5th Circuit Court of Appeals defending the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act in Brackeen v. Bernhardt. Nearly 80 members of Congress in the Senate and the House signed on to the brief.

More information on Udall’s legislative accomplishments is below: 

A New law 

- Esther Martinez Native American Languages Programs Reauthorization Act (Pub. L. No. 116-101)-Signed into law on December 20, 2019, this bipartisan legislation strengthens Tribally-developed Native American language revitalization programs. The law is named after Esther Martinez, an Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo traditional storyteller and Tewa language advocate who passed away in 2006. It amends existing law to reauthorize two federal Native American language programs at the Administration for Native Americans until 2024, expand eligibility for those programs to smaller-sized Tribal language programs, and allow both programs to offer longer grant periods. Udall is the author of the legislation, which passed both chambers of Congress unanimously.

Senate-Passed Bills

- PROGRESS for Indian Tribes Act (S.209)-Udall is an original cosponsor of this bipartisan legislation that passed the Senate in June. The bill will streamline the Department of the Interior’s self-governance process and provide Indian Tribes with greater flexibility to efficiently tailor, consolidate and administer federal programs for their communities.   

- Tribal HUD-VASH Act of 2019 (S.257)-Udall is an original cosponsor of this bipartisan legislation to recognize the dedication of Native veterans by ensuring that they have equal access to a federal housing assistance program. The bill will formally codify a joint Tribal housing initiative between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program to provide rental and housing assistance to veterans in Indian Country.

- The Native American Business Incubators Program Act (S.294)-Udall introduced this legislation to help jumpstart Tribal economies by filling critical gaps for Native entrepreneurs, who often face unique barriers in access to capital and resources. The bill will create a competitive grant program in the Department of the Interior’s Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development to establish and maintain business incubators that specialize in assisting Native-owned small businesses to navigate those unique challenges.  

Reported by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs:

- The SURVIVE Act (S.211)- Udall is an original cosponsor of this bipartisan bill, which seeks to improve Tribes’ access to victim federal assistance resources under the federal Victims of Crime Act and elevate Tribes to a more equal playing field with states when accessing federal victim assistance funds. Udall also worked to secure funding for Tribes victims of crime in the FY2019 and FY2020 funding packages.

- Savanna’s Act (S. 227)- Udall is an original cosponsor of this bipartisan bill to establish best practice guidelines for law enforcement agencies to respond to and solve more missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) cases.

- Tribal School Federal Insurance Parity Act (S.279)– Udall cosponsored this bill, which would create equitable access to the Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEBH) and Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) for all Bureau of Indian Education schools.

- Indian Water Rights Settlement Extension Act (S. 886) – Udall led the introduction of this bill to extend authorization of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Water Settlement Fund and ensure a predictable, reliable funding stream for both authorized and future Indian water rights settlements so stakeholders can better plan for the future.

- The Not Invisible Act (S. 982) – Udall cosponsored this bipartisan bill to improve coordination of violent crime prevention efforts and MMIW crisis response in Native communities across all relevant federal agencies.

- The BADGES Act (S. 1853) – Udall led introduction of this bipartisan bill to address federal hiring inefficiencies that hurt Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement recruitment and retention, increase the effectiveness of federal missing persons resources, and provide Tribes and states with resources to coordinate responses to the MMIW crisis.

- The Health Care Access for Urban Native Veterans Act (S. 2365) – Udall led introduction of this bipartisan bill to provide Native veterans living in urban areas to greater access culturally-competent medical care through Indian Health Service-funded Urban Indian Organizations.