Law and order bill passes Senate

WASHINGTON – The Tribal Law and Order Act has passed the Senate, and now awaits movement in the House.

The affirmative vote came via unanimous consent June 23. The successful legislative procedure meant that no senator objected to the details of the legislation. Non-controversial bills regularly pass via this maneuver.

The bill was attached to H.R. 725, the Indian Arts and Crafts Amendments Act, which also carried the day. That act expands the authority of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board to bring criminal and civil actions for offenses involving the sale of misrepresented Indian-produced goods. It allows “any” federal law enforcement officer to investigate possible violations, rather than just the FBI, which has been the standard since the law was enacted in 1990.

The law and order legislation, which strengthens justice resources for reservations in a number of key areas, has long been pushed for by Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. It had already once passed the chamber, but the new measure brought it in line with some House language involving a companion bill.

Dorgan noted that the measure “encourages more prosecution of crime in Indian country, increases penalties for reservation offenders, reauthorizes key programs, and establishes consistent protocols to address sexual violence.”

Tribal courts make up a substantial focus. Under the bill, they will be allowed to impose sentences of up to three years, but their authority is affected in some ways, like being required to follow U.S. court system procedures.

A widely anticipated provision requires the Department of Justice to report on the cases it declines to prosecute on reservations. Many tribal officials have complained about the large number of cases they say go unheard.

President Barack Obama has long supported the legislation, and hailed its passage.

“The president applauds the Senate for passing the Tribal Law and Order Act, and he urges the House to move swiftly,” said Shin Inouye, a White House spokesman.

“As he said at the White House Tribal Nations Conference last year, he strongly supports this legislation, which improves our ability to work with tribes in the investigation and prosecution of crime impacting tribal communities, and authorizes resources for tribes to fight crime more effectively.”

All eyes are now on the House, where Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., is the sponsor of the companion bill. She is hopeful that the Senate’s positive action will translate to success in her chamber.

Whitney Phillips, a spokeswoman for Herseth Sandlin, said the representative “worked very closely” with Dorgan in advancing the Tribal Law and Order Act. She said the version of the act that passed the Senate included provisions worked out in bicameral negotiations involving both Congress members.

“The fact that the Senate was able to pass the bill by unanimous consent is a positive sign for passage in the House, where the bill has bipartisan support as well,” Phillips said.

“Stephanie believes this bill is a top priority, and she will continue to work to make sure it is passed into law and sent to the president for his signature.”

To date, the House Judiciary Committee has held a legislative hearing on the bill.