The U.S. Senate gave its approval today to major settlements involving American Indians and black farmers, and it passed a rewrite of a ban on so-called “animal crush” videos that was struck down in April by the Supreme Court.
The flurry of activity came as senators wrapped up legislative loose ends before Thanksgiving. They’re leaving Washington for a week, set to resume their “lame duck” session Nov. 29.
Debate over the settlements had drawn out for months over how to pay for them and over how much of the $3.4 billion settlements should go to the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the case involving American Indians. Named for plaintiff Elouise Cobell, that case centers around the accounting of royalties for resource extraction on American Indian land.
In the end, the authorizing legislation that passed the Senate left the question of fees to the judge in the case, without a cap from Congress. The legislation also appropriates $1.15 billion for a settlement with black farmers, including name plaintiff Timothy Pigford, who were denied the full benefits of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program.
In order to pay for the settlements, the legislation draws money from a surplus in a fund for nutrition programs and by extending customs user fees. Senators approved the legislation without a formal vote, sending it to the House of Representatives for a potentially final vote.
“We will keep our eyes on the finish line. We are closer than we were before,” a lead plaintiffs’ attorney in the Cobell case, Dennis Gingold, said Friday evening.
In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said, “Black farmers and Native American trust account holders have had to wait a long time for justice, but now it will finally be served.”
The crush video legislation will head to President Barack Obama for his signature or veto. It, too, passed without a formal vote.
Mike Scarcella contributed.