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Tribal policing measure fails

BOISE – After a stormy two-hour debate in which opponents raised fears including the Coeur d’Alene Tribe taking away people’s guns as they pass through the North Idaho reservation, the Idaho House on Thursday rejected the tribe’s policing bill by one vote.

“There are ghosts and goblins out there that people are trying to come up with … that don’t exist,” state Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, told the House as he rebutted claim after claim about the policing bill.

The measure, HB 111, would have allowed tribal police officers to function as police officers under state law if they have all the required training and insurance and cite non-tribal criminals into state court, not tribal court.

“This is a public safety issue,” state Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, the bill’s House sponsor, told lawmakers.

The tribe last year dropped proposed legislation when, just as lawmakers were poised to pass it, Benewah County agreed to a cross-deputization agreement. That county had revoked its last such agreement with the tribe in 2007. Then, after the legislative session ended, the county backed out of the agreement.

State Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, traveled to Benewah County in December to try to broker a deal, and an agreement again was reached – and again the county backed out.

The new bill, HB 111, wouldn’t require the county to be involved.

Since 2007, tribal officers who stop non-tribal members in Benewah County have had to detain them until a county or state officer shows up to take over the arrest; if they don’t show up in time, the suspect goes free.

The tribe has a successful cross-deputization deal with Kootenai County.

Wills, a retired state trooper, said he’s received hundreds of calls and e-mails threatening him and questioning his integrity for backing the bill. “I’ve had threats I’d better never go into the county again,” he said. “I’ve been called all kinds of sundry names.”

Among opponents’ objections were fears that the tribe could draw on its own laws to impose civil penalties on non-Indians – something that already can occur today on the reservation.

“This doesn’t change anything about that,” Wills said. Instead, it addressed criminal violations.

When state Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, tried to suggest that the Coeur d’Alene Tribe will take people’s guns if they come onto the reservation with state concealed-weapons permits, Nonini gave a blistering rebuttal. When the National Rifle Association brought up an “11th hour” concern, Nonini said, the tribal council held an emergency meeting this week and changed its tribal code. But it never would have been an issue in the first place, he and others said.

The bill dealt only with criminal violations by non-tribal members on the reservations, and allowing tribal police to make arrests and take those offenders to the county jail. It didn’t change any provisions of tribal code or alter the tribe’s civil regulations on things like zoning or hunting.

State Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, told the House, “I stand here with a heavy heart today to debate this bill.” He said some have accused people from his county of being racist. “I’ll tell you that’s nothing more than hate speech and that is not true, it is definitely not true. It’s highly offensive to me and to the people of my county,” he said.

Harwood said he opposes the bill because, “This bill will give the power to an entity that is not accountable to the people that it has the power over. That flies right in the face of everything this country’s about, doesn’t it? It sure seems like it to me.”

State Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, debating in favor of the bill, told the House, “I’ve grown weary of the arguments I’ve heard about this for the past two or three years. The whole issue is just to provide proper law enforcement within the bounds of the reservation.” He said he found the continuing dispute “baffling,” and said, “I get bothered when I hear that the Indians are a sovereign nation and they already have too many benefits, don’t give them more. I think that’s a poor argument. You know, we’re all Idahoans.”