Trust issues between the state and Native American tribes worked their way to the forefront of a legislative committee meeting Wednesday.
In the end, the House Appropriations Committee recommended approval of a plan to spend $3 million for workforce training grants to tribal entities.
“They have not trusted us, so it’s about time we show them how to trust us,” said Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, in supporting Senate Bill 2218.
Committee members agreed the new workforce training approach to breaking the cycle of poverty on reservations is a worthwhile attempt.
“One of the things I liked is that we’re trying a new way of doing things,” said Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo.
Prior to proposing amendments to the bill, Skarphol said he had detailed discussions with Scott Davis, executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission.
He said they agreed that a lack of confidence among Native people inhibits them from assimilating into the workforce and launching new business opportunities.
“The issue is to prompt the people on the reservation to go off the reservation and go to the colleges,” he said.
The bill started off as a measure appropriating $5 million for the Department of Commerce to launch a new workforce training grant program to tribal colleges.
The Appropriations Committee cut back the funding to $3 million, and narrowed the focus of eligible grant recipients to tribal colleges not located on a reservation and to entities on reservations with high unemployment. The unemployment rates need to be 30 percent or higher.
That move assured that United Tribes Technical College of Bismarck would be eligible for grants, and that Fort Berthold Community College and the Three Affiliated Tribes at Fort Berthold would not.
Skarphol said that amendment was aimed at directing the grants to where they are most needed.
Since the Three Affiliated Tribes collects $150 million in oil revenue and has reported an unemployment rate of about 10 percent, the need is greater elsewhere.
Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, noted the Three Affiliated Tribes also receive casino income.
“We talk about trust,” Dosch said.
“They don’t trust us, we don’t trust them. I think it’s very sad about the lack of trust among their own people.
“They should step up and put that money to helping their people.”
Rep. Tracy Boe, D-Mylo, introduced an amendment to restore half of the amount that had been cut from the bill.
“In light of the spirit of cooperation and trust,” he suggested settling on $4 million for the program.
But after hearing Dosch describe $36 million in federal funds that have come in to the state in the last two years to prepare Native students for new and emerging jobs, the committee decided to leave the appropriation at $3 million.
Because the grants represent new programming, committee Chairman Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, said he would have been more comfortable funding a pilot project at one location.
But Boe said the bill stipulates reporting so lawmakers can assess the success of the programs that are funded.
“We are at a crossroads,” said Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley.
“Right now, we can bring the next generation into the workforce.”
The Appropriations Committee also voted to recommend approval of a plan to increase the amount of state scholarships and to lower the eligibility for those scholarships.
“I personally would rather give the money to the students than to the institutions,” Skarphol said.
As amended, the bill would provide $8,000 to qualified North Dakota students who score at least 23 on the ACT test.
The program had provided $6,000 scholarships, and students would have to score at least 24 on the ACT test to qualify.
Safety grants shot down
Despite references to horrific school shootings in Newtown, Conn., the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday rebuffed a proposal to provide safety grants to small schools.
The committee voted 15-7 against a plan to appropriate $4 million for grants of $10,000-plus for such things as alarms, cameras, electronic door locks, emergency response call and key or pass cards.
Committee members said that is over and above the governor’s budget and local levies are available for such safety spending.