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Senate considers $2B infusion into Indian Country
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Filed Under: Law | Politics

Update. Sen. Thune said the Senate has agreed to his $2 billion amendment and will include it in the bill by a voice vote. He said $750 million will be used for law enforcement and $250 million for health care, including contract health service and facilities. The $1 billion for water projects remains a part of the amendment.

The Senate began debating a global health bill on Monday that could send $2 billion to Indian Country for law enforcement and water projects.

Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) are leading the charge for the money as part of S.2731, a bill that would provide $50 billion for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and related programs worldwide. The two Republicans question why the United States can't share some of the funding with tribes.

"There are two other needs on our Indian reservations that are drastic, they are emergencies," Kyl said on the Senate floor yesterday, referring to law enforcement and water.

"It's an embarrassment that we in the Congress are not able to meet these requirements for our own Native American population and yet we're willing to spend $50 billion on this foreign aid program," added Kyl, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate.

Thune said his amendment addresses a wide range of law enforcement and justice issues. Half of the $1 billion will go to the Department of Justice for construction, rehabilitation and placement of detention facilities.

A report that was commissioned by the Bush administration recommended the construction of 263 detention facilities at a cost of $8.4 billion over 10 years, Kyl noted.

Another 40 percent would go to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to fund law enforcement personnel and tribal courts. The remaining 10 percent of the $1 billion is dedicated to investigations and prosecutions by the FBI and U.S. Attorneys and for other justice efforts.

"Tribal, state, and federal leaders face a host of challenges in Indian Country, and many of them have roots in inadequate funding and infrastructure for law enforcement," Thune said yesterday.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) vowed to be the "first in line" to vote for the amendment. He said tribes are being "shortchanged and deprived" by the federal government.

"When Sen. Kyl and others come forward and ask use to find money to help Native Americans, they can count on many of us on the Democratic side," said Durbin, the second-highest Democrat in the Senate.

Along with the Thune and Kyl amendment, the Senate will consider 10 amendments to the global health bill. A final vote is expected later this week.

The effort comes at the BIA considers just what it takes to improve law enforcement on reservations. One example is coming from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, where the agency is spending $1 million over three months to combat high crime rates.

According to press reports from South Dakota, the "surge" has been successful. But Pat Ragsdale, the director of the BIA's Office of Justice Services, has acknowledged that Operation Dakota Peacekeeper could end once the money runs out.

As part of the Interior Department's budget, Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has increased funding for law enforcement in the past two years. But officials acknowledge the BIA only meets about half of the need for police officers on reservations.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is considering draft legislation to address what Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) calls a "crisis" in public safety on reservations. Thune is co-sponsoring the bill.

Relevant Documents:
Operation Dakota Peacekeeper (BIA) | Draft Discussion Bill | Concept Paper | Press Release

Related Stories:
BIA spends $1M on Standing Rock Sioux 'surge' (7/14)
Column: Sen. Thune takes on law enforcement issues (7/10)
Ex-BIA official cites need for law enforcement (6/24)
Federal prosecutor defends efforts at DOJ (6/20)
Senate panel tackles crime issues in Indian Country (6/20)
Editorial: Funding alone won't help Standing Rock (6/16)
Indian Affairs Committee takes up law bill (6/16)
Editorial: Standing Rock Sioux confront crime (6/13)
Editorial: Standing Rock crime deserves attention (6/10)
Sen. Dorgan plans subpoena over BIA jail report (6/5)
BIA tackles crime on Standing Rock Reservation (6/5)
Sen. Dorgan plans bill to address Indian Country crime (11/20)

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