News: Quick Takes

Tillis helps push U.S. defense bill for N.C. bases, yet lawmakers manage to sneak in unrelated provisions

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis. (CJ Photo)
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis. (CJ Photo)

Military installations in North Carolina will benefit from the recent passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, which U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, helped to push through Congress.

President Biden signed the $778 billion act, Senate Bill 1605, in late December. The act authorizes appropriations principally for Department of Defense programs and military construction, Department of Energy national security programs, and intelligence programs, the White House says in a statement. It also specifies a military basic pay increase and other provisions relating to the Armed Forces, for example.

In an odd move, though, the bill gives permission to the Catawba nation tribe to open a casino in North Carolina. Sens. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, managed to squeeze the seemingly unrelated provision into the sprawling defense act. The Catawba nation is based in South Carolina, but North Carolina’s gaming laws — as they apply to Native American operators — are more lenient regarding table games and slots, Roll Call reported.

The Catawba Indian Nation will oversee the $273 million Catawba Two Kings Casino with plans for 2,600 permanent jobs and revenue for the tribe, The Associated Press wrote. A temporary preliminary operation is already up and running at the site off Interstate 85 in Kings Mountain, about 35 miles west of Charlotte, the AP says.

“The new law clarifies that the tribe, which has a 700-acre reservation in upstate South Carolina, is subject to tribal gambling laws and affirms the Interior Department’s actions,” the AP said, according to a post by WFAE. Further, the new law ends a long-running dispute and legal battle over casinos between the Catawba and the Eastern Band of  Cherokee Indians, who run two casinos in western North Carolina.

The act is designed to fund DOD programs and projects, although lawmakers get creative when slipping things, like the casino provision, into voluminous legislation such as S.B. 1605.

“[M]ainly, that is, because it’s the only authorization bill that gets approved year after year,” Frederico Bartels, senior policy analyst for defense budgeting at the Heritage Foundation, told Roll Call.

“This is part of the sausage-making process that shouldn’t be there. All pieces of a bill deserve their own time in the sun,” Bartels told the website.

Nevertheless, N.C. bases, posts, and stations, principally, will benefit from the legislation, which, for instance, provides $7.7 million for the emergency water system at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville and $57.9 million for an aircraft maintenance hangar at Marine Corps Station Cherry Point in Havelock.

Among Tillis’ priorities regarding the legislation was funding to promote a better quality of life for members and their families, changes to the criminal justice system, and helping families. Tillis, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, also helped to pass an across-the-board 2.7% pay raise for military members and the Department of Defense civilian workers.

“I was proud to lead multiple successful bipartisan efforts, including providing a pay raise for our service members and expanded options to improve the lives of military families,” Tillis says in a statement. 

S.B. 1605, among many things, authorizes $75.3 million from the Armed Forces Retirement Home Trust Fund for fiscal 2022 for the operation of the Armed Forces Retirement Home. Legislation related to military justice reform includes changes to how the military investigates and prosecutes certain offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. For instance, the act establishes a special trial counsel who would have exclusive authority to refer certain offenses to trial by court-martial. 

For families, the law increases parental leave to 12 weeks for all service members for the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child.

“Since being elected, one of my top priorities has been ensuring Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point, New River, and Seymour Johnson have the resources they need as they continue to play an important role in protecting the nation,” Tillis said. “This bipartisan legislation will be a big win for North Carolina’s service members and our military families.”