Official recall petitions issued for Rep. White Eagle, Rep. Begay

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Contact tracing made a high priority at Ho-Chunk gaming sites

By HCN Public Relations Officer Ken Luchterhand

Contact tracing is an important component in the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

That’s why the staff at the Ho-Chunk Gaming facilities have made contact tracing a high priority to keep its patrons and employees safe.

Safety officers from each of the casinos have completed training by Johns Hopkins University and are certified to conduct contact tracing procedures.

One of the key components to contact tracing is identifying people who have the virus and those who came into contact with anyone who may have the virus. Another component of contact tracing is identifying workplace situations where close proximity may be necessary as part of the job and investigate ways to change that practice.

“Since the early stages of this pandemic, our facility has taken a very proactive response to protect our employees and our guests,” said Matthew Zarnoth, security director at Ho-Chunk Gaming – Madison. “We recognized early that unmitigated spread within the facility could strain our ability to sustain operations so we developed a process for screening which employees were symptomatic, exposed, or infected with COVID-19. Any cases we experienced could be coordinated through our Safety Officer to ensure that any infections were contained and did not spread internally.”

Initially, contact tracing was coordinated with the Department of Health, but it was recognized that casino staff was positioned to be able to respond faster if they traced exposure internally, focusing on workplace exposure rather than the scope of contact tracing that the Department of Health would do, Zarnoth said.

“With that, we began researching methods for contact tracing and Safety Officer Antonina Singer discovered a free online training through John Hopkins that certified in contact tracing,” he said. “Nina and I both completed that course and we began conducting internal contact tracing in coordination with the Department of Health shortly after. At some point afterward the Department of Business became aware of our efforts and mandated that the Safety Officers at all of our gaming facilities be trained in contact tracing and replicate our process.”

Nina’s efforts have set the standard for pandemic response and have been instrumental in their ability to sustain this crisis, Zarnoth said.

“Before the shutdowns, she recognized supply chain challenges the pandemic would create so we were able to plan accordingly to get necessary supplies and PPE. Being the first property to open, she drafted the first safety and reopening plan that allowed us to open safely, and allowed the other properties a starting point on their plans to reopen. She’s a brilliant woman and has been working her tail off to keep our business going strong and our people safe and she deserves a lot of credit for that,” Zarnoth said.

Ho-Chunk Gaming – Madison Executive Manager Dan Brown said that Zarnoth has been a stalwart during the pandemic and has maintained extreme vigilance on the status of this disease so that the casino managers, security officers, and safety officers are on the cutting edge of decision-making.

“The stress and strain of this environment since March 17, 2020, when we closed down has been intense, to say the least,” Brown said. “And with the politicization of the issue, it created chasms within the facility that had to be skillfully navigated so that we could operate sensibly and safely.”

“Matt has been highly instrumental in keeping the science aspect of this issue at the forefront, being highly conscientious that our gaming facilities are the lifeblood of the tribe. Matt and Nina have been a dynamic duo during this unprecedented time. I’m very proud of their always forward-thinking leadership,” Brown said.

Judge rules legislative action unconstitutional

The Ho-Chunk Legislature has acted in an unconstitutional manner, according to a ruling by the Ho-Chunk Nation Trial Court.

The Honorable Associate Trial Court Judge Mary Jo Hunter of the Ho-Chunk Trial Court issued the decision on Thursday, October 29, 2020.

The case was brought before the court by plaintiffs Ho-Chunk Nation President Marlon WhiteEagle and the HCN Executive Branch.

President WhiteEagle objected to the Legislature abusing its powers to reduce the Executive Branch budget by means of line-item budget reductions. WhiteEagle argued that the act crossed the line of the constitutional separation of powers, crossing the lines of branches of government. WhiteEagle objected that he was not allowed any input in decisions of how the money could be spent and what employees would be retained or be laid off.

Also, WhiteEagle challenged the Legislature approving a continuation of short-term budgets, which is not allowed by the Constitution.

According to Judge Hunter, a continuation of a temporary budget is allowed only in certain situations, such as when a particular department has not submitted its budget in time for approval by the Legislature. It cannot be used on a continual basis for the entire government, Judge Hunter determined.

“The Court determines that the manner in which the individually-named Legislators passed its continuing budget resolutions violated the Ho-Chunk Nation President’s constitutional powers under ART. VI,§ (2)(b)-(c) and (2)(1) of the Ho-Chunk Nation Constitution,” Judge Hunter wrote in her judgement.

The Ho-Chunk Legislature passed a resolution that would permit them to approve continuing short-term budgets. Judge Hunter deemed that unconstitutional.

“Therefore, the (Court) “hereby declares that the Appropriations and Budget Process Act 2 HCC § 4.5(g) is unconstitutional insofar as it permits successive continuing budget resolutions,” she wrote.

The Ho-Chunk Nation Constitution authorizes the Legislature to “authorize expenditures and appropriate funds to the various departments in an annual budget” and in accordance with the Ho-Chunk Nation Constitution, “the President of the Ho-Chunk Nation must be permitted input on in the budgetary process.” 

President WhiteEagle is pleased with the court’s decision.

“We function best when we empower the full use of each branch of the Ho-Chunk Nation government,” he said. “Our courts are there to interpret our laws and Constitution, and they did that in this decision.”

WhiteEagle believes that the legislative body has never really been challenged before this.

“They’ve never been put in check or had their authority questioned like this,” he said. “We hope this paves the way for more credence on Executive Department input in decision making for the best interest of the Nation and less misinterpretation of authority on legislative side of the house.”

WhiteEagle hopes the separate branches of Ho-Chunk government can move forward at this point and be respectful of each branch’s autonomy, as in the separation of powers.

“It’s a win for us, so we are happy with the decision,” WhiteEagle said.