BOISE - A new informal Idaho Attorney General’s opinion, issued in response to a request from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, says there are no constitutional problems with HB 500, the cooperative law enforcement legislation proposed by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.
“It’s perfectly clear,” Clark said. “I think the A.G.’s analysis is right on the mark - all the constitutional issues just go away. Now let’s talk about real issues, let’s try to get some public safety for people who are non-Indians living on Indian reservations.”
Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane found no conflicts between the bill and the Idaho Constitution on accountability for law enforcement officers, the authority of sheriffs, the granting of privileges or the right of suffrage. Clark said opponents of the bill, including Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, had raised those constitutional concerns.
“HB 500 does not attempt to displace county sheriffs’ authority to enforce state law,” Kane wrote in the opinion. “Rather, consistent with the Legislature’s authority to prescribe ‘peace officer’ status, it expands the methods by which tribal law enforcement officers can secure such status.” As for the right of suffrage - the right to vote - Kane wrote, “Nothing in HB 500 addresses, much less diminishes, that right.”
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe proposed the bill because it contends criminals are going free because its officers on the Benewah County portion of its reservation can’t arrest non-tribal 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.
The tribe’s lobbyist, Bill Roden, says though the issue started in Benewah County, the bill would “end jurisdictional gaps in law enforcement within the boundaries of Indian reservations in the state.” It encourages Idaho tribes and county sheriffs to reach cooperative agreements for law enforcement within reservations, but if they don’t after six months of negotiations, tribal police officers could begin enforcing state laws on the reservation if they meet certain requirements.
The bill is awaiting a hearing in a House committee.