In the above video, Anita Baffoni recaps the hearing. The original story is below.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo’s top lawyer is heading to Washington on Wednesday to testify before Congress about an issue that pits Southeastern New England’s Democratic congressmen against each other: tribal casinos.
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples will hold a hearing at 2 p.m. on a bill sponsored by Congressman Bill Keating, D-Mass., that would restore the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s right to tribal land in Taunton and Mashpee that was revoked by the U.S. Interior Department last year.
The department had placed the land in trust for the tribe late in the Obama administration, but the decision was reversed following a lawsuit after President Trump took office. Officials cited the fact that the tribe wasn’t under federal jurisdiction when the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 was passed.
The move has called into question whether the Mashpee tribe will be able to open its proposed billion-dollar casino in Taunton — just across the border from Rhode Island, where gambling proceeds are one of the state’s largest revenue sources.
The issue is unusual because it pits Massachusetts’ all-Democratic congressional delegation against Rhode Island’s all-Democratic congressional delegation.
Rhode Island has played a pivotal role in recent jurisprudence around tribal lands, after then-Gov. Don Carcieri successfully sued the Interior Department to reverse a decision to take land in Charlestown into trust on behalf of the Narragansett Indian Tribe for a housing project. The U.S. Supreme Court backed the state in a landmark 2009 decision, Carcieri v. Salazar, that set the 1934 cutoff date.
Josh Block, a spokesperson for Raimondo, said the governor is sending her executive counsel, Claire Richards, to testify against Keating’s bill in an effort to convince the House to uphold the Carcieri decision.
“Claire has served as legal counsel for four governors over more than two decades in public service,” Block said in an email. “She has subject-matter expertise in tribal affairs and was instrumental in the Supreme Court’s Carcieri v. Salazar decision, which this bill seeks to circumvent.”
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Cedric Cromwell is also scheduled to testify. Keating’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night. Congressman Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., is co-sponsoring the measure.
Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline, a member of House Democratic leadership, reaffirmed his opposition to the Keating bill on Tuesday.
“This bill is bad for Rhode Island,” Cicilline said in a statement. “I have strongly communicated to my colleagues my state’s concerns and opposition to this bill.”