The floor vote came months after Gov. Jerry Brown affirmed the federal government's determination that the North Fork tribe could acquire property about 35 miles from their ancestral lands to build a casino in Madera County. The unconventional process has spurred intense lobbying, with opponents saying it contradicts the principle of Native Americans building on existing tribal lands. The compact also are opposed by competing tribal casinos.
But Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, who carried Assembly Bill 277, cast the bill as a sorely needed economic boost for the North Fork tribe, who he said merely want "the same right granted to every other sovereign tribe in the state of California."
"This compact would put Californians back to work," Hall said in a speech on the Assembly floor, adding that "tribal gaming has replaced welfare with work. "Tribal gaming has replaced despair with hope and dependency with self-reliance."
The legislation also advances a compact between California and the Wiyot Tribe. In March, the Wiyot Tribe surrendered the right to build on its environmentally sensitive land in exchange for a chunk of the proceeds from the North Fork tribe's gambling profits; if the North Fork tribe doesn't get the necessary approval, the Wiyot Tribe can nix the compact.
"This tribe has survived disease, slavery and expulsion from their land," Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, said of the Wiyot Tribe, adding that the tribe has managed to survive but "badly" needs the revenue from the compact to fund social programs.
The bill's fate was uncertain throughout the morning. It initially appeared to garner 38 votes, three short of a majority, before ultimately attaining the 41 needed to pass. A dozen lawmakers opposed the move, with the rest of the 80-member house not voting. The bill now heads to the Senate.
"We already knew that it was going to be close," Hall told Capitol Alert after the vote. "Some members were in contemplation. They wanted to be the last person to vote with the bill."
PHOTO CREDIT: The North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians moved closer to getting the green light for building a casino like the the Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Rocklin shown here. June 17, 2010. Randall Benton/The Sacramento Bee.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This post has been updated from previous versions to clarify that the casino would be about 35 miles from the tribe's ancestral lands. Updated at 1:34 p.m. May 2, 2013.