Congress approves tribal law and order act

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 326 to 92 to approve the Tribal Law and Order Act and send it to President Obama for signature.

The Act could bring greater local control to tribal law enforcement agencies and improve communication among agencies providing public safety on reservations.

The Act was sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. and passed the Senate in June.

One of the most notable things the act would do if signed into law is enable tribal courts to sentence people to up to three years in prison. Currently, tribal courts can issue one-year sentences.

Tribal courts and federal courts have concurrent jurisdiction over several felonies classified in the Major Crimes Act, including murders and rapes, that occur on reservations. If federal prosecutors decline prosecution in cases that fall under the Major Crimes Act, tribal officials don’t always receive the information compiled in investigations by federal agencies, making it difficult to prosecute the crimes in tribal court.

The Tribal Law and Order Act, if signed by the president, would require the Department of Justice to file declination reports to tribal justice officials to coordinate the prosecution of crimes on reservations.

The Act also would provide resources to enhance cooperation among tribal, state and federal agencies, authorize tribal police to make arrests for all crimes committed on reservations, provide tribal police more access to national criminal history databases, improve collection of reservation crime data and increase resources for dealing with domestic and sexual violence.

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