Poarch Creek land-into-trust bill could also aid Florida effort

A bill introduced by Rep. Bradley Byrne, H.R.5486, could benefit the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in both Alabama and in Florida.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians Land Reaffirmation Act confirms that acreage in two Alabama counties, which Escambia County, says the tribe owes $23 million in back taxes on, is held in trust by the U.S. government and therefore not subject to local taxes; at the same time confirming a 1-acre plot in Florida is likewise in trust for the tribe.

If the legislation is successful, it would have a two-fold benefit. The first would be as a result of the bill’s primary focus, which is the land in Alabama in trust for the tribe where the Escambia County tax assessor attempted last year to tax the Artmore Wind Creek Casino and Hotel but was ruled against by a federal judge. The tribe would be protected from any future ruling against it in the case, which Escambia County has appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, if H.R.5486 is successful. The second result could help to address Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) concerns regarding the legality of the Florida site. Due to the uncertainty, Scott has refused to negotiate with the tribe for a Class III gaming compact.

Byrne said that the tribe approached him in the latter part of 2013, when he was first elected, when land trust questions emerged after a 2009 Supreme Court decision. As a result, he said, the legislation was necessary. Byrne said that he’s not taking anybody’s side, “It’s simply providing clarification and is not changing the status quo, because the status quo is that no taxes are owed,” according to the Montgomery Advertiser. Byrne said that while he is sympathetic to Escambia and other county’s financial problems, the Poarch Creek land trust recognizes the mistreatment by the federal government of Native American tribes.