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Congressional Roundup: Johnson seeks a fix for tribal mortgages


Congressional Roundup: Johnson seeks a fix for tribal mortgages

May 27, 2023 | 3:15 pm ET
By Searchlight staff
Congressional Roundup: Johnson seeks a fix for tribal mortgages
Jeff Griffin of the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, left, talks with U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-South Dakota, at a roundtable discussion May 1, 2023, in Sioux Falls. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-South Dakota, introduced legislation this week to streamline the approval process for mortgages on tribal land.

Some tribal land is held in trust by the federal government, and mortgages involving property on trust land must be reviewed and approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The BIA Mortgage Handbook establishes timelines for BIA offices to process and approve mortgages, but Johnson said those timelines are not always met.

Congressional Roundup

This is the latest installment in a series of periodic updates on the activities of South Dakota’s congressional delegation. Other recent installments:

The bill is the Tribal Trust Homeownership Act. Johnson said it would:

  • Seek to cut BIA red tape and provide timely processing of mortgages.
  • Create timelines in which the BIA would be required to process and approve mortgages for property located on tribal trust land.
  • Require the BIA to notify lenders upon receipt of documentation and perform a preliminary review of documents not later than 10 days afterward, and approve or disapprove of the documents within 20 or 30 days, depending on the type of application.
  • Require the BIA to notify the lender once the proposed residential leasehold mortgage, business leasehold mortgage, or right-of-way document has been received.
  • Enhance the ability of certain federal agencies to operate their tribal housing programs and improve communication between the BIA and tribes, tribal members, and lenders through the establishment of a realty ombudsman within the BIA who can communicate with relevant parties.

“Housing availability is lacking across the country,” Johnson said in a news release. “It’s no different on tribal lands. Without proper timelines or accountability, the BIA is creating a longer and more difficult process for those trying to purchase tribal trust land.”

The bill is endorsed by the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition and Mortgage Bankers Association.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by a bipartisan group including Sen. John Thune and Mike Rounds, both Republicans from South Dakota.

Urging a focus on China

Rounds and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, led a group of their colleagues in sending a letter to the leadership of the Appropriations Subcommittees on Defense, urging them to continue to invest in the Marine Corps Force Design 2030 initiatives. 

Force Design 2030 is the Marine Corps’ restructuring plan to modernize and prepare its forces to counter threats from China.

Force Design 2030 requires the Marine Corps to restructure its organization in the western Pacific, shifting to a naval expeditionary force. 

Johnson bills pass committee

A House committee has passed two of Johnson’s measures that address shipping and trucking.

The Ocean Shipping Reform Implementation Act would strengthen provisions from Johnson’s earlier Ocean Shipping Reform Act, which became law in 2022. The new bill would prohibit U.S. ports from using Chinese state-sponsored LOGINK software, allow the Federal Maritime Commission to investigate foreign shipping exchanges like the Shanghai Shipping Exchange to preempt improper business practices, and authorize the commission to streamline data standards for maritime freight logistics.

The 91,000-pound Weight Exemption Pilot Program, a provision in Johnson’s SHIP It Act, would establish a voluntary 10-year pilot program for states to increase truck weights on federal interstates up to 91,000 pounds on six axles.

“My bills strengthen our supply chain, allowing products to reach consumers faster and fighting against China’s unfair trade practices,” Johnson said in a news release. 

The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed both bills, sending them to the full House of Representatives.

How they voted

  • The House passed and sent to the Senate the HALT Fentanyl Act, which would permanently categorize lab-made substances with similar chemical structures to fentanyl among the most strictly regulated drugs under U.S. law; the vote was 289-133 with a yes from Johnson.
  • The House voted to overturn the Biden administration’s one-time student debt relief plan that is currently on hold awaiting a Supreme Court decision expected within weeks; the vote was 218-203 with a yes from Johnson, and the resolution now goes to the Senate.