Published On: Fri, Apr 15th, 2016
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Senate bill addresses jurisdiction for drug-related crimes





The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was signed into law in 2013 and one of its major accomplishments was finally giving federally-recognized tribes jurisdiction over non-Indians committing domestic violence crimes against American Indian women.  Now, a new Senate bill, the Tribal Youth and Community Protection Act of 2016 Criminal Jurisdiction Bill_Introduction Version (4-12-2016), is hoping to continue with that work and give tribes criminal jurisdiction over any offender for drug-related crimes, domestic violence against children, and crimes against tribal law enforcement officers.

The legislation was submitted on Thursday, April 14 by Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), both members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“Tribal communities must have every tool they need to protect themselves from folks who traffic illegal drugs and harm children in Indian Country,” said Sen. Tester in a statement.  “This bill gives tribes certainty and provides tribal law enforcement with the tools they need to police and prosecute every criminal in their community.”

Sen. Franken said in a statement, “Communities in Indian Country need to be able to take action against every dangerous offender who brings in drugs, hurts children, or threatens law officers.  But right now, tribes don’t have the jurisdiction they need to fight back against many of those very serious crimes.  Our new legislation would restore the ability for tribal governments and law enforcement to protect their communities.”

Terri Henry, former EBCI Tribal Council Chairperson, was very active in the fight for passage of VAWA and is also the co-chair of NCAI’s Task Force on Violence Against Women.  She praised the new legislation, “Senator Tester’s and Senator Franken’s leadership and attention to criminal jurisdiction issues in Indian Country are appreciated, especially as it relates to protecting our tribal youth.  What we have learned from the tribes implementing the VAWA 2013 Special Domestic Violence Jurisdiction is that children who are caught up in the domestic abuse or drug-related crimes are not protected.  This law would enable tribes to restore their tribal criminal jurisdiction to protect all their tribal citizens.”

Jacquline Pata, NCAI executive director, commented, “NCAI appreciates Senator Tester’s attention to criminal jurisdiction issues in Indian Country, especially in protecting our native youth.  Restoration of tribal criminal jurisdiction is an essential governmental service that all tribes need to protect their communities and create social wellbeing throughout Indian Country.”

The bill ends with a call for a report on this issue, “Not later than four years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs shall submit to the Committee on Indian Affairs of the Senate and Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Representatives a report describing the degree of effectiveness of federal programs that are intended to build the capacity of criminal justice systems of Indian tribes to investigate and prosecute offenses relating to illegal drugs.”