Janet Mills, Governor of Maine, rejects legislation granting federal privileges to the Wabanaki tribe.

Posted on: July 4, 2023, 06:50h. 

Last updated on: July 4, 2023, 06:50h.

Maine’s Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has vetoed legislation that would have given the state’s tribes greater access to federal laws. Despite bipartisan support in the House and Senate, Mills rejected the bill (ID 2004) on Friday.

Janet Mills, Wabanaki, Maine, veto
Maine Gov. Janet Mills argued ID 2004 would cause more legal trouble than it’s worth, a stance that has angered the tribes who experience a narrower version of sovereignty than tribes elsewhere in the US. (Image: Bangor Daily News)

The four Wabanaki tribes have long demanded the same rights as other tribes in the country. The governor’s decision to veto a bill whose approval was described by Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis as “a landmark victory in the pursuit of Wabanaki self-determination” has mystified observers and angered the tribes.

This is the second time Mills has vetoed a bill that would have expanded sovereignty for the tribes, who have limited sovereign rights compared to Native American groups in other states.

‘Conflict and Litigation’

In a six-page veto letter, Mills expressed concerns about the bill’s provisions potentially leading to conflict and litigation rather than collaboration and communication.

ID 2004 would have placed Maine’s tribes on the same level as the other 570 federally recognized tribes in the US, granting them access to federal benefits they have been denied since a 1980 land claims settlement.

However, the bill did not permit the tribes to organize class II gaming on their reservations under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which was added to gain support from Maine Republicans.

Sports Betting Redress

Under the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (MICSA), the tribes have narrower sovereign rights compared to many other Native American tribes, including the right to organize gaming. Their reservations are currently treated like municipalities, making them subject to state laws.

MICSA also specified that federal laws enacted after 1980 would not apply to the Wabanaki tribes unless Maine was mentioned in the law. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988, which established gaming rights for Native Americans on tribal lands, did not mention Maine.

Mills attempted to address this imbalance by negotiating with the tribes on the legalization of sports betting and granting them exclusivity over mobile wagering. While Maine legalized sports betting in 2022, it has yet to launch in the state.

Override Possible

ID 2004 passed the state legislature with a supermajority, meeting the required two-thirds vote to override the governor’s veto.

However, there is no guarantee that this will happen. Lawmakers who previously supported the bill may now hesitate when asked to vote against the governor.

“…[a] bipartisan, supermajority of the Legislature passed this bill and [that’s] exactly why I will work tirelessly to harness that same group of legislators and override this veto,” said House speaker Talbot Ross (D-Portland).

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