Saturday, February 04, 2023

Resolution would ask Congress to “fully fund” law enforcement on reservations

by Lake County Leader
| January 12, 2023 12:00 AM

Senate Joint Resolution 5, which had its first hearing Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, calls for Congress to fully fund the public safety and law enforcement needs of Montana’s tribal nations and reservations.

Sponsored by Senator Bob Brown, R-Trout Creek, the joint resolution came at the request of the Legislature’s State-Tribal Relations Committee.

“For far too long the federal government hasn’t upheld its agreements with Montana’s tribes and Native American citizens,” Brown said.

The non-controlling “whereas” clauses of the resolution note that Montana’s Native American citizens have been negatively impacted by violence, addiction, and the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous persons for generations while the federal government has consistently lapsed in its public safety commitments to tribal communities.

“Just like every community, we need fully funded law enforcement and public safety programs. Victims of crimes deserve justice,” said Sen. Jason Small, a Republican from Busby and member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.

SJ 5 urges the United States Congress to fully fund public safety within Montana’s reservations and urges the U.S. Department of Justice to work cooperatively with the governments of tribal nations to effectively administer justice programs.

Commissioner Gale Decker said Tuesday he is unsure if the resolution is relevant to Lake County’s efforts to secure funding for Public Law 280. The agreement, authorized in the 1960s, gives the state and county jurisdiction over felony crimes involving tribal members on the Flathead Reservation.

“We just recently heard of it,” Decker said, noting that the commissioners sent a letter to U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines and Congressman Ryan Zinke this week, encouraging them to contact the governor and legislators “in support of our quest to get funding for PL 280.”

“We’ll take a deeper look at this resolution to see what impact it might have locally,” he added.

Meanwhile, State Senator Greg Hertz of Polson has introduced Senate Bill 127, which would require the state to provide funding for PL 280. According to Decker, the bill has no dollar amount attached, since that would fall to the Appropriations Committee later in the session.

Decker also anticipates the Rep. Joe Read will introduce similar legislation in the House, “but we haven’t seen anything yet,” he said.

The commissioners unanimously voted last week to withdraw from PL 280, effective May 26. They say felony prosecution of tribal members costs an estimated $4 million annually, and without remuneration from the state, poses an unreasonable burden for local taxpayers.

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