BOISE – Controversial legislation proposed by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe on state-tribal law enforcement won a unanimous vote in committee Tuesday, clearing a key first hurdle.
The Idaho House Judiciary Committee voted to introduce the bill, which would set the stage for tribal police to enforce state law against nontribal members on tribal land, although some panel members said they may not support it after it goes through a full hearing.
The tribe’s Boise lobbyist, Bill Roden, told lawmakers there’s been much misinformation spread about the issue and the proposed legislation, and he urged the committee to introduce the bill to set the record straight and allow informed discussion about it.
The appeal worked.
“I’m in the dark here on how all this works, and I would like to know more about that,” said Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home.
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe contends criminals are going free because its officers on the Benewah County portion of its reservation can’t arrest nontribal members, and that sheriff’s officers aren’t showing up to make the arrests for them.
The tribe had a cross-deputization agreement with Benewah County until Sheriff Bob Kirts revoked it in 2007. The tribe’s agreement with Kootenai County stands.
Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, was watching from the audience as the committee voted.
“I know there has been a lot of misinformation out there, and now we have a chance to really separate the facts from the fiction,” Allan said after the vote. “I think … at the end of the day, they’ll do the right thing.”
Although the issue started with the dispute between the tribe and the Benewah County Sheriff’s Office, Roden said the bill would apply to any tribe and would “end jurisdictional gaps in law enforcement within the boundaries of Indian reservations in the state.”
The legislation encourages Idaho tribes and county sheriffs to reach cooperative agreements for law enforcement within reservations. If an agreement isn’t reached after six months of negotiations, tribal police officers could begin enforcing state laws on the reservation if they meet certain requirements, including being state-certified and sending all cases to state courts. Additionally, the tribe must carry liability insurance and waive its sovereign immunity so it can be sued in cases of officer wrongdoing.
Opponents have bombarded lawmakers with messages saying the move would subject nontribal members to tribal courts and remove sheriffs’ authority; Roden said it wouldn’t do either. The measure doesn’t require cross-deputization, and it also provides that tribal police agencies bear all their own costs and don’t collect a share of fines from their arrests of nontribal members for state offenses.