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House panel gives tribe, county 6 days to hammer out agreement

House panel gives tribe, county 6 days to hammer out agreement

Dustin Hurst
March 12, 2010
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March 12, 2010

Thursday the House Judiciary Committee considered legislation that would cross-deputize tribal law enforcement officers, thereby allowing them to enforce states laws on reservations.  Tribal officers are currently allowed to arrest and detain Indian citizens on tribal lands, but are not allowed to arrest non-Indian lawbreakers without the permission of the local county sheriff's office.  The bill would not automatically cross-deputize tribal officers if enacted by the Legislature, but would instead give the tribe and county six months to come to a solution.  If that target date is not met, tribal officers would be able to enforce state law on tribal laws.  Under provisions in the legislation, tribal officers would be required to be POST certified as are all other peace officers in the state.

The dispute over jurisdiction for tribal officers comes from just south of Coeur D'Alene, where the Coeur D'Alene Indian Reservation resides.  The reservation sits on land in two counties, Kootenai and Benewah.  The tribe currently enjoys a law enforcement agreement with the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office, but the Benewah County Sheriff's Office canceled its  agreement with the tribe in 2007.

Helo Hancock, legislative director for the Coeur D'Alene Tribe (which originally brought the plan to legislators), said that the purpose of the bill is to "encourage cooperation among the county and the tribe."  He informed lawmakers that of the 10,000 people living on the reservation, only about 1,500 are Indian, which means that on a day-to-day basis, officers come in frequent contact with non-Indians.

The bill is a "one-way street" favoring the tribe, said Mike Kane, representing the Idaho Sheriff's Association.  Kane said that the legislation focuses solely on giving tribal officers additional jurisdiction and would not give authority to local sheriff's offices to arrest tribal members on tribal lands.  Currently, sheriffs and deputies are allowed to enforce state laws on the state highways that run through the reservation.

Benewah County Prosecutor Doug Payne joined Kane in opposing the bill, but for different reasons.  Payne said if enacted, the bill would only confuse the public because tickets written by tribal officers would land non-Indians in tribal courts.  According to the text of the legislation, all arrests and tickets by tribal officers would be required to be processed in state courts.

One legislator who was not on the committee got in of testifying before the panel.  Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, told committee members that the bill is a matter of liberty, which would be denied under enactment of it.  Harwood said that if tribal officers are cross-deputized, citizens would be done a disservice because non-Indians would have no place to file their grievances.  He even went so far as to say the measure is "unconstitutional."

Before debate closed on the bill, Chief Allen, chairman of the tribe, offered a simple and lighthearted testimony.  Allen said the bill is not complex and only follows the wisdom of McGruff the Crime Dog.

"Let's take a bite out of crime," said Allen.  He then urged lawmakers to support the measure, which, he feels, will help provide the reservation with proper police coverage and enforcement.

At the three-hour mark of the meeting and as both side were preparing to give their closing remarks, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, seemed to scold both sides for bringing the measure before the Legislature.

"I just wish you guys wouldn’t even be here today, and you would just sit down and come to an agreement," said Labrador. "Why haven't we solved this?"

Ultimately, it looks as if Benewah County and the tribe will have the opportunity to do precisely that and solve the problem on their own.  Lawmakers on the committee voted 10-5 to hold the bill for six days to allow the two sides to come to an agreement.  Legislators on both sides of the aisle may have tipped their hands, however, as to what might happen if an agreeable solution is not found.  Rep. Steve Kren, R-Nampa, and Rep. Donna Boe, D-Pocatello, both moved to send the bill to the House, though Boe favored changing the enactment date of the bill until 2011 to afford more time for both sides to work out their differences.

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