Committee approves bill giving tribes access to grants
RIVERTON — Lawmakers advanced a bill draft Friday that would make Wyoming Business Council grants as accessible to local tribes as they are to other governments.
The clarifying measures came after an August meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations, during which a WBC representative said the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office considers tribal entities ineligible for grants and loans through several WBC programs.
Acting on directions from the tribal relations committee, Legislative Service Office attorney Heather Jarvis added the titles “Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes” to the lists of entities eligible for the WBC programs.
She presented the changes during a committee meeting Friday in Riverton.
The term “cooperative tribal governing body” also was added to the list — a vague title meant to include current or future iterations of what is now called the Wind River Intertribal Council, and was formerly known as the Joint Business Council.
In August, the committee had discussed whether the provision for “cooperative agreements” between the WBC and other governing bodies was constitutionally necessary, according to an LSO staff note to the new bill.
The narrative notes that the term "cooperative agreements" may be superfluous because the state can’t issue direct appropriations, loans, or donations directly “in certain instances” but can issue them indirectly as with the WBC.
All occurrences of the phrase “cooperative agreements” were removed from the bill draft.
“Additionally, at least some program monies originate from severances on minerals produced on the Wind River Indian Reservation,” the note reads, adding that the inclusion of tribes as eligible entities does not homogenize them with other sub-governments, as they remain “sovereign entities to themselves.”
The new draft presented by Jarvis was approved heartily by the committee, after both Northern Arapaho Tribal Attorney Claire Johnson and Eastern Shoshone Business Council member Mike ute expressed their full approval on behalf of each tribe.
Tribal relations has a strong presence of local delegates, including State Sen. Cale Case and State Rep. and committee co-chair Lloyd Larsen –– both Lander Republicans –– State Rep. Andi Clifford, D-Ethete, and State Sen. Tim Salazar, R- Riverton.
Committee co-chair and State Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, was in doubt as to whether the changes to the bill would appease the attorney general as to the tribes’ eligibility, but Larsen said he believed they would.
Ellis had posited to WBC director Josh Dorrell that his agency “has concerns and prohibitions on tribal enterprises applying for funds,” asking “Is that a fair statement?”
Dorrell said that was not the case in his experience as a WBC director for two years.
“We just want to make sure the entity is eligible for the program, to follow the statute,” he said.
“I don’t know of any concerns or worries about tribal entities utilizing the program if they’re eligible.”
Ellis said she wished she had more data on which tribal applications, if any, had been granted through the years.
Case followed up on the question, saying he recalled a prior denial to one tribal entity, and that there were “other complicating things about that” including right-of-way issues and other companies.