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Bill extending federal protections to state's Native American children set to become law

Two bills tracked by the region's Indian tribes and passed during the legislative session that ended last week await Gov. Ned Lamont's signature, while a third calling for a gambling study was rolled into the budget "implementer" that's been signed into law.

Public Act 22-60 will ensure that state child welfare laws involving an Indian child’s custody or placement in a foster or adoptive home are applied in accordance with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA.

After winning unanimous approval in the Human Services Committee, the House and the Senate, it will be binding on the commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families, probate court and, in contested cases, Superior Court.

Adopted in 1978, the federal law already applied to Connecticut’s federally recognized tribes, the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans, but not explicitly to the three other state-recognized tribes that lack federal recognition: the Eastern Pequots of North Stonington, the Schaghticokes of Kent and the Golden Hill Paugussetts of Colchester and Trumbull.

“ICWA established standards for the removal and out-of-home placement of Indian children as well as the termination of parental rights to protect the best interests of Native American children and keep them connected to their families and tribes,” the Office of Legislative Research reported. “Among other things, it clarifies that tribes have sovereignty and exclusive jurisdiction over their members who reside on tribal land and establishes a process for transferring cases to tribal court in other cases.”

Members of the Eastern Pequot Tribe, including Mitchel Ray, the chairman, advocated for the bill. Ray spent his early years in foster homes before being adopted, and didn't connect with his tribe until he was in his early 20s.

Handgun permits

Public Act 22-102 authorizes changes in gun-permitting laws, including one that allows the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan police chiefs to issue temporary handgun permits to residents living on the tribes' respective reservations.

Connecticut residents must obtain a temporary handgun permit locally before applying to the state for a permanent permit.

Previously, residents of tribal reservations had to seek temporary handgun permits from municipal authorities in Ledyard in the case of those living on the Mashantucket reservation, or in Montville in the case of those living on the Mohegan reservation.

While the Mashantuckets advocated for the bill, the Mohegans, who don’t allow handguns on their reservation, took no position on it during a public hearing.

“The tribal council has no intention of authorizing the chief of police to issue such permits at this time,” Chuck Bunnell, the Mohegans’ chief of staff, said Friday.

Gambling study

A study of legalized gambling’s effects on state residents, part of the state budget implementer, requires the commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to conduct, by Aug. 1, 2023, “an examination of the types of gambling activity engaged in by the public and the desirability of expanding, maintaining or reducing the amount of legalized gambling permitted in this state.”

Both opponents and supporters of expanded gambling in Connecticut, including the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, the casino-owning Mashantucket and Mohegan tribes and the Connecticut Lottery Corp., advocated for the study in the wake of the state’s 2021 legalization of online gaming and sports betting.

Originally, the bill called for the study to be completed by Jan. 1, 2023.

A bill that would have exempted personal property on tribal land from local taxation failed to gain traction after being passed by the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.

As proposed, the measure could have proved costly to the towns of Ledyard and Montville, which annually collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes on personal property owned by third-party vendors on the Mashantucket and Mohegan reservations, which include Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, respectively.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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