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Tribal sovereignty bill advances in the Senate without debate, but a veto looms

Maggie Dana, Rena Newell
Robert F. Bukaty
Chief Maggie Dana of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point, right, listens to Tribal Rep. Rena Newell following the passage of a bill at the State House in Augusta, Maine, that allows the tribes to regulate their own drinking water and other water-related issues on Tuesday, April 12, 2022.

A bill to overhaul Maine state government's relationships with Indian tribes in the state advanced in the Maine Senate on Friday without debate.

The tribal sovereignty bill is one of the highest-profile and most closely watched measures of the legislative session. The bill would allow the Penobscot Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians to enjoy most of the rights, power and privileges afforded to more than 500 other tribes nationwide under federal law. Tribal leaders in Maine say a 1980 agreement has led the state to treat them more as municipalities than as sovereign governments.

But the bill is controversial, as evidenced by Thursday's largely party-line vote in the House. It faces additional votes in the House and Senate as well as a potential veto from Gov. Janet Mills.