Gov. Parris N. Glendening vetoed legislation yesterday that would have accelerated the application process for Native Americans seeking tribal recognition, pointing to concerns that some hope to build casinos.
"The specter of expanded gambling opportunities in Maryland continues to loom over this issue," Glendening said in a letter to House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. explaining his veto of House Bill 342.
Also yesterday, the governor rejected three bills he said would have eroded the state's land conservation efforts, including a measure allowing natural gas extraction on agricultural preservation land.
"I consider the cluster of them to be undermining our commitment that said this land would be preserved forever," Glendening said.
The Indian bill would have required Glendening or future governors to act within 120 days of receiving a recommendation on tribal recognition from the Department of Housing and Community Development and Commission on Indian Affairs.
The legislation was prompted by the Piscataway-Conoy Confederacy and Subtribes' application, which has been stuck in the housing department for seven years.
The group has received financial backing from gambling interests, and the General Assembly has considered several bills to help its cause.
"There is a general perception that the push for these bills is about bringing slots to Maryland," said Glendening, who opposes expanded gambling. "I don't want to do anything that even implies we are receptive [to slots]."
The bill's sponsor, Del. Talmadge Branch, said he was "absolutely blown away" by the veto because he had amended the bill at the governor's request to clarify that state recognition of the tribe had nothing to do with gambling.
"I felt that we had an agreement," said Branch, a Baltimore Democrat who says some of his relatives are of Tuscarora tribal ancestry. "It's unfair to these people. Give them an answer. There shouldn't be a loophole in the law that allows him or anyone else to continually evade a decision."
Julia A. Pierce, a member of the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs, said the governor's veto will be seen as an affront to most Indians who live in Maryland, regardless of their tribal affiliation.
"I will tell you the commission is unhappy and very disappointed," said Pierce.
Another commission member, Richard Regan, said the veto was consistent with what he called Glendening's "dismal track record" on Native American issues.
"This governor will go down in the history of Maryland as doing less for Indian people than any governor in the state's history," Regan said.
Representatives of the Piscataway-Conoy tribe did not respond to telephone messages late yesterday seeking comment.
However, Billy Red Wing Tayac, chief of the rival Piscataway Indian Nation, said Glendening was wise to veto the bill.
Tayac, whose tribe also is trying to obtain state recognition, contends that the Piscataway-Conoys are making bogus ancestry claims. He maintains that the Piscataway-Conoys want state recognition as a "stepping stone" toward federal recognition, with the aim of eventually getting the right to run gambling enterprises.
"Governor Glendening is a wise man," Tayac said. "He saw through the scheme."
The Piscataways would have to be recognized by the federal government to take advantage of a U.S. law that allows commercial gambling on tribal lands. Some say state recognition could help the tribe's bid.
Maryland has no recognized indigenous tribes.
Glendening said he is especially vigilant in reviewing bills related to land conservation, and said that the three he vetoed - all sponsored by Republicans - would weaken the state's programs.
The measures vetoed were:
House Bill 567, which would have allowed farmers to participate in the state's agricultural land preservation program while allowing natural gas production.
Its sponsor, Del. George C. Edwards of Garrett County, said current law is unfair to Western Maryland farmers, because it requires relinquishing mineral rights for preserved land. Often, he said, surface rights and mineral rights are owned by different people or entities, and the gas owners won't agree to participate in the program.
House Bill 1000, sponsored by delegates Joseph M. Getty and Nancy R. Stocksdale, which would have applied to five properties in Carroll County. It would have allowed owners of agricultural land to sell one-acre parcels for homes. Current law allows homes to be built only for the owners of the farms or their family members.
Senate Bill 750, which would have extended property tax breaks to land designated for conservation between 1986 and 1991. The governor said local governments could better use the money on additional land, but Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, the Eastern Shore minority leader who was lead sponsor, said he believed his legislation was targeted because of his party affiliation.