Tribal methamphetamine bill clears House
A bill to include tribes in three anti-methamphetamine programs cleared the House by a unanimous vote last month.

H.R.545, the Native American Methamphetamine Enforcement and Treatment Act, clarifies that tribes are eligible to receive grants already available to states. Supporters said tribes were inadvertently left out when Congress addressed the issue in 2005.

But after successful efforts by tribes to raise awareness of the meth crisis, the House voted 423-0 on March 22 to pass the bill. "Studies have shown that Native American communities have more than double the methamphetamine use rates of other communities," said Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-California).

"According to surveys performed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, over 70 percent of Indian tribes identified methamphetamine as the drug that poses the greatest threat to their reservation, and also estimated that at least 40 percent of violent crime cases investigated in Indian country involved methamphetamine in some capacity," Sanchez added.

The bill affects three programs at the Department of Justice. The COPS Hot Spots program addresses manufacture, sale and use of methamphetamine; the Drug-Endangered Children program aids children in homes in which meth or other drugs are manufactured or used; and the Pregnant and Parenting Women Offenders program addresses meth use by pregnant and parenting women.

"This legislation is critical to our continuing fight to eliminate the meth epidemic in America," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) is sponsoring S.267, the companion bill.

A nearly identical bill is being supported by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona). But S.85 contains language that could be construed as limiting tribal sovereignty.

The bill states that the awarding of grants does not expand tribal jurisdiction. Under federal court decisions, tribes do not have criminal authority over non-Indians and have restricted civil authority over non-Indians.

The grants cannot be used by "an entity for law enforcement activities that the entity lacks jurisdiction to perform," according to the bill as introduced.

The language applies equally to states, tribes and federal territories, McCain said when he introduced the bill in January. "For example, a law enforcement agency in one state, territory or Indian reservation is not somehow enabled by this section, or by an award made pursuant to this section, to prosecute a methamphetamine crime arising in some other jurisdiction unless that agency already has such jurisdiction," he said.

But the provision came after the Republican Steering Committee raised concerns last year about the bill's potential to expand tribal jurisdiction. In the 109th Congress, Republicans placed holds on nearly every Indian piece of legislation.

The effort has continued in the 110th Congress, through objections to a Native Hawaiian housing bill and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Republicans have cited constitutional arguments against what they see as efforts to expand tribal or Native American programs.

Even though it received every Republican and Democrat vote, H.R.54 nearly fell prey to partisan politics. When it was being considered by the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans tried to insert an amendment to prohibit the use of grants for abortions, except in cases where the woman's life was at risk.

The amendment was defeated by a party-line vote and Republicans continued to support the overall bil.l. But they inserted language in the committee's report that sought to justify the need for the abortion language.

Meth Legislation:
Indian Tribes Methamphetamine Reduction Grants Act (S.85) | Native American Methamphetamine Enforcement and Treatment Act (S.267) | Native American Methamphetamine Enforcement and Treatment Act (H.R.545) | Methamphetamine Trafficking Enforcement Act (S.132) | Family-Based Meth Treatment Access Act (H.R.405)

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