Bills in Navajo Council given a second chance pass

By Felicia Fonseca
Window Rock, Arizona (AP) April 2010

Associated Press Writer
Two measures that initially failed in the Navajo Nation Council got the votes needed to pass last week after being recalled.

One measure allows the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority to grant limited waivers of sovereign immunity. Instead of disputes being settled in tribal court, companies that enter into agreements with NTUA can take up grievances in state or federal court.

“We’re pleased with the outcome, and we’ll begin work on major projects soon,” said Walter Wolf, an NTUA consultant.

Those projects include a wind farm at the Big Boquillas Ranch, on lands owned by the tribe and on Arizona trust land about 80 miles west of Flagstaff. The first phase of about 85 megawatts is being designed for construction in 2011.

Fifty state-of-the-art wind turbines will generate power equivalent to the energy needs of up to 20,000 homes when complete. The power will be marketed to Arizona and regional utilities.

NTUA is seeking tens of millions of dollars in financing for the project. Officials said opportunities to take advantage of tax credits, secure software licensing agreements and obtain credit support for electric and natural gas supplies become jeopardized without the ability to waive sovereign immunity.

The council has granted other enterprises of the Navajo Nation the ability to issue limited waivers of sovereignty, but lawmakers questioned whether NTUA would run rampant with that power and why companies could not deal with the Navajo Nation in the same manner it deals with state and federal governments.

“Our enterprises, they come to the council and the nation asking us to put them under the umbrella of sovereignty for protection, now they’re sitting here and telling us that sovereignty we gave them is a problem,” said Delegate Raymond Maxx. “So it doesn’t make sense.”

The measure failed Wednesday morning but was recalled and passed 59-19. Lawmakers also voted in favor of increasing NTUA’s debt limitation from $200 million to $500 million.

Lawmakers ended the day in discussion about a measure that would extend sovereign immunity protection to subsidiaries created by Navajo enterprises with approval from the council, but lawmakers lost a quorum. The spring session resumes Thursday.

Another measure that further increases the power of the legislative branch’s top attorney also was given a second chance Wednesday and passed 61-17. That bill gives the legislative counsel the authority to hire or fire special prosecutors, a duty that historically has been reserved solely for the tribe’s attorney general.

It also subjects judges selected for a panel that appoints special prosecutors to confirmation by the Tribal Council, which raised concerns that the process could become political.

The chief justice of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court appoints three judges, current or retired, to serve two-year terms to the panel.

Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. likely will veto the measure. He rejected a measure this year to allow the legislative counsel to issue legal opinions, contract with outside attorneys and enforce election codes, saying it was politically motivated. Lawmakers overrode the veto.