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Maine House Approves Bill to Extend Federal Benefits to Native American Tribes

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In a significant move, the Maine House of Representatives has voted in favor of a bipartisan bill that seeks to extend federal benefits to Native American tribes in the state.

The legislation received a strong show of support with a 100-47 vote, demonstrating bipartisan agreement on the issue. This decision marks an important step towards rectifying the disparities faced by Maine's Native American tribes under the current legal framework.

Under the existing Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980, the Wabanaki tribes in Maine have been subject to state law, limiting their access to federal legislation. This stands in contrast to the autonomy enjoyed by the 570 federally recognized tribes across the United States. The newly approved bill aims to address this discrepancy by enabling most federal laws that benefit other tribes to extend to the Wabanaki tribes in Maine.

However, it is important to note that the bill does not grant full sovereignty to the tribes. One notable provision of the legislation is the exclusion of certain federal laws related to casinos. This means that obtaining state approval would be necessary for the establishment of casinos by the tribes. The inclusion of this provision reflects an effort to strike a balance between tribal interests and state concerns.

Representative Aaron Dana, who represents the Passamaquoddy tribe, emphasized the urgent need for change and highlighted an incident where his tribe was unable to seek assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) due to existing limitations. He expressed optimism about the potential benefits of the bill and referred to it as one of the most significant in recent history for the Wabanaki tribes.

While the approval of the bill in the Maine House is a positive development, critics have raised concerns about potential conflicts and lawsuits that may arise from its implementation. Governor Janet Mills' chief legal counsel has urged tribal leaders to collaborate with the administration to find mutually agreeable solutions rather than pursuing a bill that could create new complications.

The bill will now move to the Senate for further consideration, where its fate will be closely watched by tribal communities and supporters throughout Maine. Its passage in the House represents progress towards achieving greater parity with other federally recognized tribes, although full sovereignty has not yet been granted.

This development comes at a time when Maine is also preparing to launch its sports betting market. Milton Champion, the head of the state's gambling regulator, has suggested that sports betting could go live by Thanksgiving, pending the review and approval of revised rules. As the tribal bill progresses and the state's sports betting market takes shape, the coming months will be crucial for the Native American tribes and the state of Maine alike.

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