[Federal Register Volume 83, Number 62 (Friday, March 30, 2018)]
[Pages 13774-13775]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2018-06443]



Bureau of Indian Affairs


HEARTH Act Approval of Lummi Tribe of the Lummi Indian 
Reservation Code of Laws, Trust Lands Leasing Code

AGENCY: Bureau of Indian Affairs, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: On November 9, 2017, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) 
approved the Lummi Tribe of the Lummi Indian Reservation's leasing 
regulations under the HEARTH Act. With this approval, the Tribe is 
authorized to enter into leases for business and residential purposes 
without BIA approval.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Sharlene Round Face, Bureau of 
Indian Affairs, Division of Real Estate Services, 1849 C Street NW, MS-
4642-MIB, Washington, DC 20240, at (202) 208-3615.


I. Summary of the HEARTH Act

    The HEARTH (Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal 
Homeownership) Act of 2012 (the Act) makes a voluntary, alternative 
land leasing process available to Tribes, by amending the Indian Long-
Term Leasing Act of 1955, 25 U.S.C. 415. The Act authorizes Tribes to 
negotiate and enter into agricultural and business leases of Tribal 
trust lands with a primary term of 25 years, and up to two renewal 
terms of 25 years each, without the approval of the Secretary of the 
Interior. The Act also authorizes Tribes to enter into leases for 
residential, recreational, religious or educational purposes for a 
primary term of up to 75 years without the approval of the Secretary. 
Participating Tribes develop tribal leasing regulations, including an 
environmental review process, and then must obtain the Secretary's 
approval of those regulations prior to entering into leases. The Act 
requires the Secretary to approve Tribal regulations if the Tribal 
regulations are consistent with the Department's leasing regulations at 
25 CFR part 162 and provide for an environmental review process that 
meets requirements set forth in the Act. This notice announces that the 
Secretary, through the Assistant Secretary--Indian Affairs, has 
approved the Tribal regulations for the Lummi Tribe of the Lummi Indian 

II. Federal Preemption of State and Local Taxes

    The Department's regulations governing the surface leasing of trust 
and restricted Indian lands specify that, subject to applicable Federal 
law, permanent improvements on leased land, leasehold or possessory 
interests, and activities under the lease are not subject to State and 
local taxation and may be subject to taxation by the Indian Tribe with 
jurisdiction. See 25 CFR 162.017. As explained further in the preamble 
to the final regulations, the Federal government has a strong interest 
in promoting economic development, self-determination, and Tribal 
sovereignty. 77 FR 72,440, 77 FR 72,447-48 (December 5, 2012). The 
principles supporting the Federal preemption of State law in the field 
of Indian leasing and the taxation of lease-related interests and 
activities applies with equal force to leases entered into under tribal 
leasing regulations approved by the Federal government pursuant to the 
    Section 5 of the Indian Reorganization Act, 25 U.S.C. 465, preempts 
State and local taxation of permanent improvements on trust land. 
Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Thurston County, 724 
F.3d 1153, 1157 (9th Cir. 2013) (citing Mescalero Apache Tribe v. 
Jones, 411 U.S. 145 (1973)). Similarly, section 465 preempts state 
taxation of rent payments by a lessee for leased trust lands, because 
``tax on the payment of rent is indistinguishable from an impermissible 
tax on the land.'' See Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Stranburg, No. 14-
14524, *13-*17, n.8 (11th Cir. 2015). In addition, as explained in the 
preamble to the revised leasing regulations at 25 CFR part 162, Federal 
courts have applied a balancing test to determine whether State and 
local taxation of non-Indians on the reservation is preempted. White 
Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker, 448 U.S. 136, 143 (1980). The Bracker 
balancing test, which is conducted against a backdrop of ``traditional 
notions of Indian self-government,'' requires a particularized 
examination of the relevant State,

[[Page 13775]]

Federal, and Tribal interests. We hereby adopt the Bracker analysis 
from the preamble to the surface leasing regulations, 77 FR at 72,447-
48, as supplemented by the analysis below.
    The strong Federal and Tribal interests against State and local 
taxation of improvements, leaseholds, and activities on land leased 
under the Department's leasing regulations apply equally to 
improvements, leaseholds, and activities on land leased pursuant to 
Tribal leasing regulations approved under the HEARTH Act. Congress's 
overarching intent was to ``allow Tribes to exercise greater control 
over their own land, support self-determination, and eliminate 
bureaucratic delays that stand in the way of homeownership and economic 
development in Tribal communities.'' 158 Cong. Rec. H. 2682 (May 15, 
2012). The HEARTH Act was intended to afford Tribes ``flexibility to 
adapt lease terms to suit [their] business and cultural needs'' and to 
``enable [Tribes] to approve leases quickly and efficiently.'' Id. at 
    Assessment of State and local taxes would obstruct these express 
Federal policies supporting Tribal economic development and self-
determination, and also threaten substantial Tribal interests in 
effective Tribal government, economic self-sufficiency, and territorial 
autonomy. See Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community, 134 S. Ct. 2024, 
2043 (2014) (Sotomayor, J., concurring) (determining that ``[a] key 
goal of the Federal Government is to render Tribes more self-
sufficient, and better positioned to fund their own sovereign 
functions, rather than relying on Federal funding''). The additional 
costs of State and local taxation have a chilling effect on potential 
lessees, as well as on a Tribe that, as a result, might refrain from 
exercising its own sovereign right to impose a Tribal tax to support 
its infrastructure needs. See id. at 2043-44 (finding that State and 
local taxes greatly discourage Tribes from raising tax revenue from the 
same sources because the imposition of double taxation would impede 
Tribal economic growth).
    Similar to BIA's surface leasing regulations, Tribal regulations 
under the HEARTH Act pervasively cover all aspects of leasing. See 25 
U.S.C. 415(h)(3)(B)(i) (requiring Tribal regulations be consistent with 
BIA surface leasing regulations). Furthermore, the Federal government 
remains involved in the Tribal land leasing process by approving the 
Tribal leasing regulations in the first instance and providing 
technical assistance, upon request by a Tribe, for the development of 
an environmental review process. The Secretary also retains authority 
to take any necessary actions to remedy violations of a lease or of the 
Tribal regulations, including terminating the lease or rescinding 
approval of the Tribal regulations and reassuming lease approval 
responsibilities. Moreover, the Secretary continues to review, approve, 
and monitor individual Indian land leases and other types of leases not 
covered under the Tribal regulations according to the part 162 
    Accordingly, the Federal and Tribal interests weigh heavily in 
favor of preemption of State and local taxes on lease-related 
activities and interests, regardless of whether the lease is governed 
by Tribal leasing regulations or part 162. Improvements, activities, 
and leasehold or possessory interests may be subject to taxation by the 
Lummi Tribe of the Lummi Indian Reservation.

    Dated: November 9, 2017.
John Tahsuda,
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary--Indian Affairs, Exercising the 
Authority of the Assistant Secretary--Indian Affairs.
[FR Doc. 2018-06443 Filed 3-29-18; 8:45 am]