(AP) — The Maine Senate on Wednesday joined the House in voting to give the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point the right to regulate its own drinking water following years of complaints about water quality.
A day after House approval, senators voted 21-11 to give the tribe the right to drill wells on land owned by the tribe and to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency instead of state agencies to ensure safe drinking water. Another vote is required for enactment.
Critics suggested that the matter should’ve been addressed by the tribe working with its neighboring communities instead of asking state lawmakers to get involved to change a charter.
But Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Kennebec, said the matter had gone on for too long, and that it was time for the state to let the tribe manage the situation.
“We have a tribal nation and the EPA ready to step up and help this community in need today. The state of Maine must set aside her painful paternalism toward the tribe and get out of the way,” he said.
The bill is one of two that lawmakers are considering that address sovereignty for Maine's Native Americans.
The other would have a much broader impact by altering terms of a land claims settlement with the state of Maine to ensure Penobscots, Passamaquoddy, Maliseets and Mi’kmaq have control over their land that’s comparable to other tribes in the U.S.
In Maine, it has been a long, frustrating battle for the tribes since they traded some rights to the state under an $81.5 million settlement that was signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.
That settlement for the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot and Maliseet, along with a 1991 agreement for the Mi’kmaq, mean the tribes are subject to state law even though they're federally recognized.
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has expressed reservations about parts of both proposals and could veto them.
The Senate tally on the Passmaquoddy water bill was two votes shy of a veto-proof, two-thirds majority. But two Democrats were absent from the vote. Those absent lawmakers could provide the necessary margin.
The House already approved the tribal water bill in its initial vote with enough support to override a veto. A second House vote Wednesday sent the bill to the Senate for a final enactment vote.
Sharp reported from Portland, Maine.