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Appropriations bill adds $10M for tribal courts in PL280 states

Tribal court judges in Alaska, from left: Kenaitze Tribal Court Judge Rusty Swan, Tribal Court Judge David Voluck, Kenaitze Chief Tribal Court Judge Kim Sweet, Kenaitze Tribal Court Judge Susan Wells. Also pictured on far right is Ryan Fortson of the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center. Photo by Barbara Armstrong

Tribes in Public Law 280 states will benefit from $10 million included in an appropriations bill under consideration in the Senate.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee added the provision. She said it will help tribes in Alaska develop their courts, particularly in light of provisions in the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the Violence Against Women Act of 2013 that strengthen tribal justice systems.

"That will help insofar as how we deal with these perpetrators who seemingly time and time again inflict this level of violence and basically get away with it," Murkowski told KYUK. "Because we have not been able to collect evidence, prosecute, and bring to some level of justice, those offenders."

Congress passed Public Law 280 during the termination era. Although it did not disturb tribal jurisdiction, it has effectively prevented federal resources from being directed to tribal courts and law enforcement in Alaska and other states.

Public Law 280 affects more than 300 tribes in Alaska and California alone. The Indian Law and Order Commission looked at the issue and determined that tribes in the affected states were facing more problems than others.

"While problems associated with institutional illegitimacy and jurisdictional complexity occur across the board in Indian country, the commission found them to be especially prevalent among tribes subject to PL 83-280 or similar types of state jurisdiction," the final report stated.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2016 Interior appropriations bill on June 18. The report accompanying the bill states:
Public Safety and Justice.—The bill includes $377,405,000 for public safety and justice programs, an increase of $24,555,000 above the enacted level. The program increases support a level of $197,504,000 for criminal investigations and police services, $16,245,000 for tribal justice support, $11,305,000 for tribal law enforcement and special initiatives, and $28,173,000 for Tribal Courts.

Consistent with the recommendations of the Indian Law and Order Commission report ‘‘A Roadmap For Making Native America Safer’’ as required by the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and to address the added tribal responsibilities outlined in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. Within the increases provided for tribal justice support, the Committee includes $10,000,000 for the Office of Tribal Justice Support to work with Indian tribes and tribal organizations to assess needs, consider options, and design, develop, and pilot tribal court systems for tribal communities including those communities subject to full or partial State jurisdiction under Public Law 83–280.

The House version of the Interior appropriations bill includes a lower level of funding. Tribal justice support is only $7,245 million, compared to $16.245 million in the Senate version.

The House began consideration of H.R.2822 last Thursday before going on a break this week. Any funding differences with the Senate would have to be addressed later in legislative process.

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