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Guest opinion: Protecting Utahns during this lame duck session

By Jared Whitley - | Dec 5, 2020

In a recent interview with CNN’s David Axelrod, Sen. Mitt Romney said, “The consequences of what’s happening during this lame duck period … are potentially more severe than the consequences associated with a late transition process.” Romney may have been talking in another context; nevertheless, the fear of lame duck legislation has grown greater than ever.

“Lame duck” is the period between November elections and the start of the next legislative session. When it works well, politicians make good on their campaign promises to the American people. When it doesn’t, they dole out election favors to donors and lobbyists, putting the concerns of special interests above those of taxpayers and consumers. Unfortunately for Utahns, this year’s appears to feature more of the latter than the former.

It’s a shame because state residents are counting on their legislators to protect their interests now more than ever.

Utah has a higher COVID-19 infection rate than nearly any other state in the nation. Its small businesses are preparing for another shutdown that would affect their already fragile bottom lines. Congress shouldn’t ignore these concerns. To protect their interests, it should work toward passing ample relief, like extending the Utah-first tax extenders for Medicare, Medicaid, and the CARES Act that will expire by the year’s end. Unfortunately, many members appear too pre-occupied with entertaining legislative giveaways to care.

This lame duck largesse isn’t just a distraction from addressing real problems facing the Beehive State. These giveaways will also create their own set of vulnerabilities for those that live here.

Take, for example, the Lumbee Recognition Act. This legislation, which recently passed the House of Representatives and may soon receive a roll call vote in the Senate, is an example of everything that’s wrong with Washington.

The bill will have Congress spend nearly a billion dollars to provide federal Native American recognition for a group that calls itself the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.

The legitimacy of the Lumbee “tribe” has long been in contention. Congress has declined to pass this legislation many times over the decades over concerns regarding their authenticity and their refusal to go through the full government process that exists to vet recognition claims. Critics point out that they have never had a treaty with the United States, a reservation, or a claim before the Indian Claims Commission. They don’t speak an indigenous language and one genealogist just calls their tribal status “invented.”

Sens. Romney and Mike Lee allowing this bill to advance will adversely affect Utahns in a number of ways.

Federal tribal recognition isn’t just something for checking a diversity box (just ask Elizabeth Warren). Those who have it have the power to tax, imprison and make laws inside of the state where they reside.

Utah has many unrecognized groups professing native identity. Each of them has every right to go through the process to establish the truth about their heritage, as do the Lumbees. But setting a precedent that allows individuals with ancestry claims as contentious as the Lumbees’ to sideswipe the government’s full vetting process could destabilize law and order within our borders.

Compounding the problem for Utah is how many groups with federal recognition desire to construct casinos. This group is of no exception. One member of the group recently said that they are perfectly situated to create one, and the Lumbee Recognition Act would provide them the right to do so.

Utah does not allow gambling of any form out of moral, communal, security and religious concerns. We recognize the dangers that it can bring to neighborhoods, especially when conducted by the wrong set of hands. But our representatives voting for the Lumbee bill would condone opening the door to the rapid expansion of gaming by any group that has a little money, the right lobbyists and the promise of political benefit.

If there’s a bill out there that’s more against Utahns’ beliefs and values, I haven’t seen it yet.

Now is not the time for new lame duck surprises. Now is the time to put the interests of constituents first. Here’s hoping the Utah delegation keeps its priorities straight.

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