HEARTH Act becomes law, Provides Tribes with more control over Tribal land use

President Barack Obama signs H.R. 205, the HEARTH Act of 2012, in the Oval Office, July 30, 2012. Standing behind the President, from left, are: Bryan Newland, Senior Policy Advisor at the Department of the Interior; Governor Randall Vicente, Pueblo of Acoma in New Mexico; David Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior; Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians; Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.; Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; interior Secretary Ken Salazar; Cheryl Causley, Chairperson of the National American Indian Housing Council; Governor Gregory Mendoza, Gila River Indian Community of Arizona; and Del Laverdure, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

(Washington, D.C.)  – President Barack Obama Monday signed the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership Act of 2012 into law, a bill that was co-sponsored by Wyoming U.S. Senator John Barrasso. The law is known by is acronym, the HEARTH Act. The measure received bi-partisan support in both the House and Senate.

“Today, a bill to remove bureaucratic red tape and clear the way for Indian tribes to pursue homeownership and economic development opportunities on tribal trust lands became law,” said Barrasso, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “With record high unemployment rates, it’s crucial that we do everything we can to expand economic opportunities and job creation on tribal lands.  This law will provide Indian tribes with tools to lease and develop their land faster and help increase the quality of life in Indian country.”

According to a news release from the senator’s Washington office, in April 2011, Sen. Barrasso introduced the HEARTH Act along with co-sponsors Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI), and Senators John Thune (R-SD), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Jon Tester (D- MT) and Tom Udall (D-NM).  In January 2011 a nearly identical bill was also introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Martin Heinrich (D-NM) with numerous bi-partisan cosponsors. The bill passed the House on May 15, 2012, and the Senate on July 17th.

Sen. John Barrasso at this week’s Cheyenne Frontier Days.

The HEARTH Act creates a voluntary, alternative land leasing process available to any Indian tribe (including the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation) that chooses to pursue it. In the end, the tribe would have the authority to negotiate and enter into surface leases of tribal trust lands with a primary term of 25 years, and up to two renewal terms of 25 years each (or a primary term of up 75 years for residential, recreational, religious or educational purposes) without the approval of the Secretary of the Interior.

This bill also requires the Indian tribe to develop tribal leasing regulations, including a streamlined environmental review process, and obtain the Secretary’s approval of these regulations, prior to entering into leases under the Act.

The HEARTH act is modeled after legislation passed by Congress in 2000 which gave similar leasing authority to the Navajo Nation.