By Angel Ellis/Reporter
“Why now?” committee members ask of latest FOP legislation
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma– Just three weeks after a Freedom of Press [FOP] constitutional amendment ordinance that would allow the citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation the opportunity to vote on press freedom was voted down 9-6 in a Regular National Council meeting on Sept. 28, a new piece of legislation was introduced in Business, Finance and Justice [BFJ] committee.
MCN Principal Chief James Floyd sent NCA 19-129 to BFJ on Thursday night but did not attend the meeting. According to the BF&J committee agenda, the first stop in the legislative process for becoming an adopted law, NC Speaker Lucian Tiger III was sponsoring the legislation. Representatives Adam Jones III, Darrell Proctor, and Joyce Deere were listed as co-sponsors for the legislation but never spoke in support of the law.
Tiger gave the floor to Acting Secretary of the Nation and Commerce Terra Branson who spoke on behalf of the bill.
“After the legislation was proposed last month for constitutional amendment Chief Floyd felt strongly and thought about the feedback that was received by citizens,” Branson said. “There is a critical need to reinstate independent status of Mvskoke Media.”
“The primary goal of the legislation is to reinstate their independent status.”
She told the committee that the legislation would expand the editorial board from three to five members.
“It would expand the board from three to five members with the experience necessary to manage and operate Mvskoke Media as it were an independent agency,” Branson said.
David Hill spoke on the many attempts to restore independent statutory agency status to the department.
“Why all of a sudden is this coming up,” Second Speaker Hill asked. “That’s what I’m concerned about, why now it’s only been two or three weeks since Rep. Randolph bill, why now?”
“There has been some improvements to the business division of Mvskoke Media under the executive branch to make it more lucrative,” Branson said. “At this time I think the Chief feels it’s time for a new board to take over that management.”
“Because the constitutional amendment wasn’t successful and in an effort to make sure that citizens voices were heard the Principal Chief’s office introduced the legislation.”
Rep. Travis Scott asked about the budget concerns, which were cited as one of the reasons for the repeal back in Nov. 2018.
“Most of the concerns I’ve heard was a budget issue; Now that this has come up what are the reasons for the change of heart because they are willing to fund it fully now,” Scott said.
Branson said that the business division of Mvskoke Media was primarily the heart of the issue.
“In consultation with Ms. Courtwright, with some organizational changes that she’s initiated, the business division which was the heart of the issue is on it’s way to resolution,” Branson said. “We feel like now is a good time to transfer it back to independent status, with more oversight and direction by both this body and a larger management board that will be compensated for their time similar to other independent agencies.”
Scott said right now he cannot support the legislation.
“It’s ironic we are setting here beating this up again,” Scott said. “To me it’s a slap in the face to the citizens that we can’t pass a constitutional amendment to allow them to vote on it.”
“It gives the council the ability to amend, who’s to say next year a new council won’t come in and amend it again?”
Pete Beaver made a motion to amend the legislation on the floor.
“Once Mvskoke Media is submitted to the NC such budget requests would be considered by the NC as any other bill,” Beaver said.
The vote for the amendment to the legislation and the vote on the legislation failed with a 3-2 vote.
Pete Beaver and Adam Jones III voted in favor of amending and passing the legislation.
David Hill and Travis Scott voted against the legislation and the recommended amendment of the legislation.
Because of the tie 2-2 vote, committee Chair Robert Hufft was the tie breaker voting against the legislation.
After the vote other NC Representatives in attendance were given the floor to comment.
Rep. Del Beaver asked if this latest round of legislation was the only time that the Chief ever received responses from citizens.
“I think the proposal at this time is a reflection of the motivation around the constitutional amendments, that was a very close vote and there is clearly a will to make the department independent again,” Branson said.
Beaver said he did not support the legislation.
“All the others [Freedom of Press legislation attempts] were close votes,” Beaver said.
“I feel the same as Rep. Scott about this, I feel like it is a slap in the face to citizens that we are doing this now,” Beaver said. “I feel like its political posturing.”
Robert Huft spoke on the Mvskoke Media budget losses.
“We keep talking about the money that is lost,” Hufft said. “It was there to be used, that money was set aside to be used anyway.”
“They didn’t really loose money at all.”
Jones, Proctor and Deere, co-sponsors for the latest piece of legislation were three of the six that voted against constitutional free press protection in the Sept. 28 Regular Council meeting.
The Native American Journalist Association [NAJA] issued a statement on their stance on the newly proposed legislation prior to the BF&J meeting.
‘NAJA still supports a constitutional amendment like the one proposed in NCA 19-121, to allow the potential protection of a citizen vote for any future changes or repeals as opposed to another bill that can be changed or overturned,’ the statement said.
NAJA went on to examine the board structure, an integral part of protecting journalist from influence.
‘Under the original bill passed in 2015, the department nominee [to the board] still required legislative confirmation and this structure was also somewhat unbalanced in favor of the government with two-to-one government to department seats,’ the NAJA statement said. ‘The leadership structure in the new bill NCA 19-129 would maintain the elimination of Mvskoke Media’s board nominee, and expand the number of seats from three to five. Even with the ethical requirements for the positions, there is still a need for a balance that includes the department’s direct say on the governing body.’
NAJA also voiced concerns on the qualifications of the department leadership.
‘Moving down the chain of command, NCA 19-129 does not set forth any direct requirements for the manager (now listed as director in the bill), including citizenship or any direct ethical parameters,’ the statement said. ‘Direct qualifications should be set forth for the most important day-to-day leader of the department.’
The new legislation retained some language of the “Shield Act” which focused on protecting the sources journalist rely on to report news.
Mvskoke Media reached out for comment from the Principal Chief Floyd and National Council Speaker Lucian Tiger prior to the BF&J meeting.
Chief Floyd issued a statement on the reason behind the new legislation proposal.
‘The Executive Branch supports NCA 19-129,’ Floyd said in a statement. ‘This bill is meant to give Muscogee (Creek) Nation free press a solid foundation by restoring Mvskoke Media to an independent agency and augmenting the Shield Act.’
Floyd explained the idea behind the expansion of the editorial board.
‘This proposed legislation includes additions to the editorial board,’ Floyd said in a statement. ‘By increasing the number of board members, we expand the pool of knowledge and experience for the benefit of Mvskoke Media, which is why the requirements include a legal, journalism or financial background.’