Tribes still haunted by Obamacare mandate

By Louis Montclair

Tribal Times

The Tribes may be able to get around financial punishments from Obamacare.

Tribal Attorney Majel Russell met with the Tribal Executive Board during the first meeting of the new year Monday regarding the Tribes and the large employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act. With her was Rae Jean Belgarde, Director of the Tribal Sponsorship Health Insurance Program (TSHIP).

Russell passed out folders of information to the TEB about litigation involving the Tribes. There is a penalty fee the Tribes owe for the ACA employee mandate. Over 500 people work for the Fort Peck Tribes, and it is a large employer by government standards. 

When this law was approved by Congress, the Tribes responded by establishing TSHIP that provides health insurance to all tribal members. The ACA requires large employers (over 50 employees) to provide health insurance that meets a certain minimum level of coverage. Failure to comply results in the employer owing an “assessable payment.” Fort Peck owes money to the government for this mandate.

The ACA mandate does not exclude Indian tribes in the large employer mandate. The law was written to exclude Native Americans from the penalty provision of the individual mandate.

Other tribes took the government to court over this, and the court upheld the mandate.

Russell said she received a memo from the Sonosky law firm in Washington DC detailing the situation, and there was a scheduled conference call for the board meeting with Russell, Belgarde,  but before she spoke about it the TEB voted to go into executive session.

The closed meeting started around 10:45 am, and it didn’t end until 2:45 pm. The council continued with a working lunch during the session with Russell. 

It is not known how much the Tribes owe to the government for the large employer mandate.

The following are highlights from the January 13, 2020 full board meeting. 

West Electronics

Another fortune thanks to unity and dedication.

Russell Kirn of West Electronics presented the TEB with a check for $1 million in dividends this past year. 

Kirn said the unity of the board and hiring the right people has been doing great these past few years. 

Chairman Floyd Azure said he thinks Kirn is doing a great job and presenting the council with a large check every year is the reason they don’t see Azure there telling them what to do. 

“I’ll let you guys keep doing what you’re doing because I appreciate that $1 million check every year,” Azure said. “And so does the Tribe.” 

Vice Chairman Charles Headdress said this is a perfect example of when tribal business is free of tribal politics. 

For the past few years, West Electronics gave the Tribes $1 million from dividends. 

Azure said the money is already figured into the Tribal Budget. 

Cigarettes

As many already know, you must now be 21 to purchase cigarettes.

Congress passed the law and the Tribes need to amend their tobacco law to match the federal law. 

Carolyn Brugh said Tribal Court Attorney Rene Martell is no longer with the Tribes. He resigned recently from the Tribal Court, but he was called upon by the council to write new laws and amend old codes.

Martell did this, making code revisions and new laws, and now the Tribes need to change their law to make the age 21 years old. 

The cigarette sellers on the reservation already know about this, and they have not sold anyone cigarettes without carding them. 

Councilman Frank Gourneau suggested to maybe have the Tribes Tobacco Prevention Director work with the state on this.

Education Board

Selection of the Education Board was delayed because the Education Program Director wasn’t there.

Councilman Terry Rattling Thunder said the Education Board applicants were in and they needed to be selected. 

They are not sure which route the Education Board needs to be hired, if it’s through the Education Program and if the director should be a part of hiring. 

What about the having the Education Board have a spot on the Fort Peck Community College, Councilman Dana Buckles asked. Human Resources Director Jackie Azure said that wasn’t wanted.

The selection of the board was postponed until Friday at 8:30 am, with the Education Director and TEB. 

HPDP Hires

Erna Granbois was hired as the Director of Clinical Services for the Health Promotion Disease Prevention Program. 

Cheryl Savior was appointed to the Director of Nurses for HPDP.

Engineering 

During the Economic Development Committee meeting, councilman Emerson Young asked about hiring multiple engineering companies to complete projects started long ago that are not complete.

Councilman Gourneau suggested the Planning Department meet with the TEB and put all of the focus and effort into getting one project finished at a time instead of taking them on all at once and not finishing. 

Councilman Jestin Dupree said one of these “elephants in the room” is the new Wellness Center. It’s been too long, and it doesn’t take 14 years to build something. When there is new people in Planning they don’t always know what has been done already and money is invested into the project but nothing produced.
Dupree asked how would a wellness center in Poplar benefit Frazer and Brockton. 

Councilman Leonard Crow Belt said he is worried about a parking lot from IRR/TTP that has been delayed as well. 

An amendment to a short form agreement to furnish professional services as outlined Task Order No. 2 Construction engineering, and another approving the authorizing of Interstate Engineering to submit Task Order No. 2 for engineering management and inspection for the phase I and II Administration Buildings. 

Facilities

The council approved of creating a Facilities Administrative Assistant at the pay of $13.49 an hour. 

Finance

Tribal leaders voted to authorize Central Finance’s new position request for a Data Entry Clerk/Accounting Assistant.

In a related motion, the council approved of extending Judy Johnson’s temporary employment with the Per Cap Office for another 30 days as the Per Capita Clerk.

When this vote was taken, councilman Rattling Thunder didn’t vote due to conflict of interest (family). 

Job Updates

Requests for permission to submit updated requirements was approved by the TEB in two separate motions.

The first was approving of the Human Resources Director to submit the updated position descriptions for the Benefits Coordinator and Human Resources Specialist, with additional duties, for reclassification. 

The second motion authorized the Chairman to submit the updated position descriptions for reclassification.

Rural Tech 

Melvin Scott, the Information Technology Department Director, said the Fish and Game Department requested security video cameras at the Buffalo Ranch. They don’t have internet service there, so this request will take awhile. 

The cameras the Tribes use are high tech and they are also able to record sound.

There was an incident at the Buffalo Ranch on New Years Day and there was a theft. 

The ranch is north of Poplar and it is miles from any internet connection. 

Tribal Credit

Ashley Porras of Tribal Credit told the TEB of tracking loans.

Committee minutes state she keeps track of the loan totals and from September through December, the loan total is $450,002.30.

The process is comparable to what the bank does.

Legal Bills

Tribal leaders paid legal fees from the Sonosky law firm in Washington DC.

The bill total was $54,005.16 for work done in November 2019. 

Garbage

Leonard Youngman and Tina Magnan of Tribal Enterprises met with the council on a new garbage truck.

Magnan said she had some bids for a new garbage truck. The BIA donated $150,000 towards the purchase, and HPDP said they may be able to help cover the remaining costs for Tribal Enterprises.

They need approximately $47,000.

The total is $197,909 from the KOIS Equipment Co.

Garbage truck purchase was approved.

Before they left, Magnan said she wants to get some gravel that is needed for the program. The IRR said they would charge it for them. 

Land

James Helmer met with the Land committee to discuss some land that he wants to get into fee for two 40-acre plots. He said nobody tells him about what is going on and nobody seems to know but they said the Tribes might be interested in buying the land. 

Councilman Crow Belt said the TEB must have declared interest on the land, and that was done to see if Helmer was interested in selling his land to the Tribes. It is trust land and Helmer said he is interested in the two 40-acre plots, which is now farm land and he would like to bring it back into the trust. He is trying to get a patent on it and it is sitting in Billings for quite some time, minutes state.

Since then, Helmer had two appraisals on the land. 

There was no mention if the BIA did an appraisal of the land. 

Shane Gibson spoke with the TEB about land the Tribes had appraised. One is near the Buffalo Ranch, and it currently belongs to Dallas O’Conner of Poplar.

O’Conner said this land should be a part of the ranch.

Chairman Azure said it wasn’t feasible for the Tribes to buy the land at this time. It wouldn’t be ready for a few years. They have a maximum price for a land sale they could offer, but no more at this time. Some of the grazing land was fenced off for the Buffalo Ranch and O’Conner said that it’s roughly 90 acres that was taken from him for the ranch

Gibson said they will go back and talk to the owner and if he doesn’t want the negotiated p[rice then they will have the fences moved or they can trade for something else. 

OEP

Martina Wilson, Director of the Office of Environmental Protection, said they want to use a huge trailer to haul out garbage and they will have new bins placed reservation wide in every community for garbage.

For this, she will need a budget adjustment. 

Lands

Myrna Walking Eagle of Natural Resources brought in two resolutions for approval. 

The council approved a contract with Sharp Drilling Inc. for a term of three years for a well-drilling and solar system installation through the Range Improvement Program. 

According to their website, Sharp Drilling Inc. is based in Sidney and it provides drilling services for water wells, geothermal and mining industries. The company has done business nation wide. 

Cancellation

The Tribes voted to approve of the a cancellation of a lease for Range Unit 77 and to advertise for a competitive bid in accordance to the Tribes Land Use Policy.

Leases

Lucas Deserly was approved for a non-enrolled member renewal homesite lease.

Shannon Dionne Martell was approved for an enrolled member new homestite lease. 

Renee Fettig was approved for an enrolled member renewal lease. The land description was so long it took committee chair Crow Belt three minutes to read. 

Jordan B. Handy was approved of a non-enrolled member lease renewal.

Duane Nygaard was approved for a non-enrolled member new lease.

Lyle Hove was granted a lease modification to ad the remaining 233 acres of pasture land to the lease. 

Darlyn Grainger was approved of a 60 day extension on all tribal leases and Marlene Smith requested the same. 

He’s back

Tribal Police Captain James Summers returned after being away from the department for awhile now.

Summers was out on medical leave, and he recently returned to the office. He was only back two days when he reported to the TEB.

Minutes state Summers is still working on a year end report of all of the police work in 2019. He is still catching up on everything else, he said.

The police have three recruits at the Law Enforcement Academy. They also have about three more officers on the waiting list to go to the academy.

A few questions were posed but other than that there was hardly any detail in the committee minutes. 

SBRRC

TEB members approved of a job classification for work at Spotted Bull Recovery Recourse Center (a.k.a. – Spotted Bull Treatment Center). 

The resolution approves the classification of the fiscal management specialist position description as prepared, rated and approved by the Tribes HR Department at a salary of Grade 12, Step 1, $23.53 per hour. 

When the final vote was taken, the final vote was nine for, one , councilman Justin Gray Hawk, opposed, and two absent.

The council then approved of the classification of the Lead Licensed Addiction Counselor position description as prepared. It was rated and approved by the Tribes HR Department at Grade 13, Step one, at $25.73 per hour.

Finally, the council approved of SBRRC request a 30-day extension for Carl Lambert as Facilities Manager. The first 30 days of his employment ended on December 30, 2019. 

Electrical

Approved was an amendment to Mr. Wire Electric contract bid for an additional $10,000 for added electrical services and this will be the final amount paid.

Before the final vote was taken, Gourneau asked the rest of the TEB to think of the others who work for the Tribes. Some have been there for over 30 years and they are our people and they deserve to be helped too. 

Chairman Azure said this is needed because the Tribes need to protect their future existence. 

Tribal Health

A funding agreement of Tribal Health was approved by the council.

The FY2020 Annual Funding Agreement renewal is for $3,966,122.

Donation

A poorly written motion and no back up details almost cost at least six buffalo.

The original resolution written stated that the Fish and Game Department will donate a two year old buffalo for each school on the reservation. 

It is supposed to be Fish and Game donating a buffalo for all reservation schools.

Robbie Magnan, Fish and Game Director, said he has been working with Wendy Becker and she wants to show young people how to cook and prepare buffalo meat in different ways. One buffalo process will provide enough meat for all of the schools. 

HPDP Lawyer

The council sent back to committee the HPDP Director Ken Smokers request for contracting a lawyer for any legal services that may arise from HPDP.

The contract is with Lindsay Naas, Attorney at Law, from January 13 to November 30, 2020 to provide guidance and assistance to HPDP on Health Care Laws, regulations and statues.

Councilman Emerson Young said they should hold off on all hiring until the program gets their budget to the TEB. 

It was sent back to the committee. 

ICWA

The council approved an open emergency travel for the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Program.

The resolution states it is part of emergency travel so that the ICWA Department can perform social service work as required under the BIA Social Service Direct Services Scope of Work. 

Councilman Buckles said this to provide travel for weekend and emergency foster care placement as needed.

Judges Leave

The council granted administrative leave for Judge Stacie Fourstar and Imogene Lilley taken on January 10, 2020.

Buffalo Grant

The Tribes will be submitting for a grant for buffalo.

The FY 2019 Inter Tribal Bison Council Herd Development Grant supports the growth of the buffalo herds at Fort Peck’s Turtle Mound Buffalo Ranch.

Another related motion approved of overtime compensation for tribal game wardens and the buffalo ranch manager. 

This will come out of law enforcement money, as game wardens are classified as law enforcement.

More Land

The council voted to declare interest in allotments owned by James Helmer. 

Media Secretary

The Tribal Council expressed interest in having a media representative for the Tribes.

This position is an Administrative Assistant/Public Relations Media Coordinator. This is the position recently vacated by former Chairman’s Secretary Sydne Campbell.

An advertisement for the new job will be released soon. 

There was previous discussion to have Vice Chairman Secretary Jourdan Lovan take over for both but the public relations person was discussed and it seemed to be a perfect use for the office desk and money.

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