HELENA — A U.S. House committee advanced two bills by U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke on Thursday as his Democratic opponent, Denise Juneau, took aim at the first-term congressman with a proposal of her own.
The House Natural Resources Committee’s endorsement of Zinke’s bills gave the Republican an opportunity to showcase legislation he is sponsoring two months before Election Day.
One bill would grant federal recognition to the Little Shell Band of Chippewa Cree Indians. It is attached to controversial legislation that would remove the Interior Department’s ability to grant tribes federal recognition, and leave that power solely with Congress.
Zinke, joined by U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and Little Shell chairman Gerald Gray, told reporters on a conference call that it was the first time the committee had advance a Little Shell bill in the 38 years that the tribe has been pushing for federal recognition. The tribe is already recognized by the state of Montana.
“I’m confident about bringing this to its final conclusion,” Zinke said.
The committee also endorsed a Zinke bill that would end a moratorium on federal coal leases by 2019, re-start lease applications that were filed when the moratorium took effect in January and allow a panel to review any future changes to federal lease regulations.
Federal officials put a hold on all coal leasing on public lands to review the leasing program and determine whether royalty rates need to be raised. Zinke and Daines, who is sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate, said the moratorium has led to mine closures and job losses in the industry.
Soon after the committee hearing, Juneau held a news conference in Helena saying the first bill she would introduce if elected would be to bar staffers of independent-expenditure committees, also known as super PACs from working for members of Congress for two years.
Zinke’s chief of staff, Scott Hommel, was the treasurer of the Special Operations for America PAC that Zinke founded in 2010. SOFA PAC spent nearly $200,000 in support of Zinke’s candidacy in 2014.
“This bill is another way to prevent special interests and dark-money groups from having a more direct impact on the laws that Congress passes,” Juneau said. “Congressman Zinke’s shady way of doing business has no place in Congress.”
Zinke spokeswoman Heather Swift called Juneau’s announcement a “press gimmick” and said Hommel is a Marine veteran who does good work on Montana’s behalf.
“She’s welcome to throw around hypothetical bills but Congressman Zinke is focused on passing real legislation for Montana,” Swift said.
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