Title 2 amendments passed over Shelly's veto

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, January 31, 2013

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O ne of the first action items the Navajo Nation Council enacted into law on Tuesday was the Navajo Nation Title 2 Reform Act, after overriding President Ben Shelly's Nov. 15, 2012 veto of it.

The act, designed to streamline the legislative process, will be written into tribal statute.

In a Nov. 15 veto memo addressed to Speaker Johnny Naize (Blue Gap-Tachee/Cottonwood-Tselani/Low Mountain/Nazlini) and the Navajo Nation Council, Shelly cited four reasons why he vetoed the bill, which includes 8 amendments to Title 2. The Council had passed the bill during its fall session on Oct. 16, 2012.

When primary sponsor Leonard Tsosie (Baca-Prewitt/Casamero Lake/Counselor/Littlewater/Ojo Encino/Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake) brought the override legislation to the floor Tuesday afternoon, Council delegates Walter Phelps (Birdsprings/Cameron/Coalmine Mesa/Leupp/Tolani Lake) and Jonathan Hale (Oak Springs/St. Michaels) motioned for an immediate vote. The end result, which didn't include any Council debate, but a smiling Tsosie with thumbs held up in the air, was a unanimous vote by the tribal legislature.

Tsosie, chair for the Nabi'k'iyati' Committee's Government Reform Subcommittee, said the Reform Act would make the Navajo Nation Council and Committee legislative processes more efficient. He said the subcommittee along with the Navajo Government Reform Commission is tasked with making continued changes to Title 2 to achieve comprehensive government reform.

"When we did the change from 88 to 24 we did a Title 2 Amendment, and then we found out at that time we need to continue to work with it," Tsosie said. "This is further improvement of that process."

Some of those improvements Tsosie talks about are provisions under Section 164, the Navajo Nation Council and Committee legislative processes.

"At the moment legislation that are sponsored keep going," Tsosie said. "With this one, committees will have the ability to hold it (a piece of legislation), table it at their level and it stays there. Only upon the express wish of the whole Council, it will be allowed to move on so we won't get cluttered with all these legislations at the end."

Three other significant changes under Section 164 are the adoption of a consent agenda or consent calendar, the Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council being able to set the agenda for a Council session rather than assembling into a session to approve an agenda, and the exhibits from proposed resolutions not being posted on the Council website, with digital copies available upon request to the Office of Legislative Counsel.

New language under Section 164 also allows Council delegates, committees or other government employees "who are statutorily authorized to introduce proposed resolutions" to seek the assistance of either the Office of Legislative Counsel or other legal counsel employed by the Navajo Nation to draft proposed resolutions.

In his veto memo, Shelly expressed concern about this provision, saying that he didn't know if it is an unfunded mandate by the Council and that the workload for non-Legislative Branch attorneys will increase along with budget increases. Shelly also said the amendment would impact the Navajo Department of Justice, including Washington Office attorneys, Judicial Branch attorneys and outside legal counsel.

Another one of those Title 2 amendments - another reason Shelly vetoed the bill in the first place - allows the president to veto all acts or resolutions only when he or she is on tribal lands, or "territorial jurisdiction as described in 7 N.N.C. Section 254."

Shelly claimed this amendment is a unilateral effort by the Council to restrict the president's power.

Tsosie said before the Council took action on the override, members of the government subcommittee, which includes Council delegates Hale, Russell Begaye (Shiprock), Jonathan Nez (Navajo Mountain/Oljato/Shonto/Ts'ah bii Kin), and Dwight Witherspoon (Forest Lake/Hardrock/KÌts'iili/Pinon/Whippoorwill), met with Shelly and reached a compromise.

"I want to thank the president," Tsosie said, adding, "We met with him and generated a compromised. He still objects to the language in the veto but we said we will reexamine that."

The compromise, which Tsosie said would happen following the winter session, will result in a follow-up meeting with Shelly and committee chairs to reexamine the amendment.

"I appreciate his willingness to work with us on that," Tsosie said.

Council delegate Danny Simpson (Becenti/Crownpoint/Huerfano/Lake Valley/Nageezi/Nahodishgish/Tse'ii'ahi/ Whiterock), one of five sponsors for the override legislation, said another amendment to Title 2 he likes is the Naabik'iyati' Committee's quorum being satisfied by the presence of two members of each standing committee or a majority of delegates of the Council.

"A lot of action is taken by the Nabi'k'iyati' and one of the major changes through the Title 2 amendments is the Nabi'k'iyati' quorum issue," he said.

As pointed out by Simpson, the new language under Section 700, the Committee, reads, "A quorum of the committee shall be satisfied by the presence of two (2) members of each Standing Committee or a majority of delegates of the Navajo Nation Council. The physical presence of a quorum is only required to call the meeting to order and/or any vote affecting a resolution. A quorum is not required for committee vote on acceptance of a report(s)."

Simpson added now that the Nabi'k'iyati' Committee, which is scheduled to meet at least once a month on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month, will have two representatives from each committee to start the meeting, there should be no reason for the committee to take about four or five hours to commence.

Under Section 110, new language clarifies the meaning of what is a "comment period" and "confidential matter."

The comment period definition allows chapter governments and divisions or departments to comment on a proposed bill once it's introduced into the legislative process. The new language under what is a confidential matter is to be determined by the Department of Justice.

Other changes to Title 2 include the notice of a committee or commission meeting being posted at least one calendar day before the meeting on the Council's website. The provision that requires the notice of meetings be posted on tribal government offices, daily newspaper, and radio station is omitted and no longer applies.

Directives issued to divisions or departments by committees also carry more weight under the Reform Act.

New previsions under Section 189 require that "all approved directives shall be memorialized in writing and signed by the presiding officer and provided to the Office of the President and the affected Division Director within three (3) calendar days of Committee approval."

With the new provisions, Tsosie thinks the legislative process has become more fluid, adding, "We move forward in the name of providing better services for the Navajo people."

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