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Thune Amendment to Promote Tribal Justice Accepted

Amendment Seeks to Study Tribal Court Reform

February 25, 2008

Washington, D.C. —  U.S. Senator John Thune announced tonight that his amendment to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (S. 1200), which would direct the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to complete an in-depth study of the tribal justice systems in North and South Dakota, has been included in the bill. The goal of the legislation is to find methods of improving the tribal judicial system, which currently is overburdened by the high incidence of crime on reservations.

"Violent crime cannot become a permanent part of life on South Dakota's reservations," said Thune, who visited Standing Rock and Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribes last week. "My amendment will help tribal courts address the problem of violent crime and thereby improve the level of safety and the quality of life on South Dakota reservations. Tribal leaders have made it clear to me that they want the problem of reservation crime addressed and that they want the tribal court system strengthened."

"The Indian Health Care Improvement Act is an important tool for improving the quality of life in Indian Country, and this amendment will increase the act's effectiveness. The study can give tribal authorities options to make the tribal justice system more effective and improve overall safety and well-being on reservations throughout the country."

Senator Thune's amendment would direct the GAO to study how tribal courts currently function and to identify weaknesses in the tribal court system that need to be addressed. If signed into law as part of S. 1200, the GAO study must be submitted to Congress one year after enactment.

In addition to this amendment, Senator Thune has taken several other steps to address the problem of crime in Indian Country:
  • Introduced an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2008 Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations bill that would provide $20 million to U.S. Attorneys to prosecute Native American crimes;

  • Co-sponsored an amendment to increase law enforcement presence in Indian Country;

  • Passed Thune meth hot spots amendment to the Fiscal Year 2008 budget resolution to provide $99 million for COPS meth hot spots grants;

  • Requested that President Bush increase Fiscal Year 2009 funding for tribal detention centers;

  • Requested that Secretary of the Interior Kempthorne ask the BIA to commit more resources to law enforcement on South Dakota's Indian reservations;

  • Pushed the Department of Justice to hold a training course in Pierre in 2007 for tribal law enforcement which focused on combating meth.

  • The Senate is expected to pass S. 1200 tomorrow and then the legislation will be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.