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Cole Urges Support for Tribal Law Enforcement Bill

July 21, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Tom Cole (OK-04) made the following remarks on the House floor in support of H.R. 725, the Indian Arts and Crafts Amendments Act, which included amendments to the Tribal Law and Order Act:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 725, the Senate amendments to the Indian Arts and Crafts Amendment Act.

This bill was originally passed in this body by a voice vote. In the Senate, however, the bill was amended to include the Tribal Law and Order bill, and that's what I want to focus my remarks on today. This bill passed the United States Senate by unanimous consent after Senator Coburn and the Senate Republican Study Committee negotiated certain spending reductions and addressed the spending concerns.

There's no question I think both sides of the aisle agree that the federal government has a unique obligation to ensure that these Americans, the first Americans, are granted the same public safety rights and protections that other American citizens enjoy. Law enforcement in Indian Country, however, has been woefully underfunded and mismanaged over decades, resulting in a drastic situation for many of our fellow Americans. I want to thank my colleague, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, and her staff for the bipartisan way which she worked with my staff and myself to address some of the concerns that we have. I obviously want to thank my fellow chairman of the Native American Caucus, Dale Kildee, and some of my Republican co-authors and supporters of this situation.

However, I agree very much with my colleague Mr. Hastings' concern that this legislation should have been brought to this body under a rule. And because it is indeed a major spending piece of legislation and there are many important and dramatic changes in federal law, we should have treated it under normal process. That's a legitimate Republican concern, and I think it ought to be a concern of everybody in this body. And, quite frankly, we will lose votes today on this legislation because of the manner in which it was brought to the floor. And that is unfortunate. Frankly, if we don't make it today, it will be because the Democratic leadership chose to bring it to the floor this way. Had it been brought under normal order, it would pass easily.

However, having said that, I think this is a case in which substance must trump process for the good of our fellow Americans in Indian Country. The problems, as I mentioned earlier, are severe. On Indian reservations, crime is 2 1/2 times the national average. One in three Native women will be raped over the course of a lifetime. We have only 3,000 tribal officers that cover 56 million acres of Indian Country. And even if criminals are apprehended, many tribal law enforcement officials have not had the opportunity to receive the training and the resources they need to adequately carry out their duties and secure convictions. Further, if the perpetrators are non-Indian, it becomes a maze of federal, state, and tribal law to determine whose responsibility it is to prosecute crimes. We have had a very difficult legislative process to work through some of these problems. This bill isn't a cure-all, but it's an important start in moving in the right direction.

This bill not only re-authorizes existing programs at existing or last appropriated levels -- in other words, there is no new spending in bill. It provides enhanced sentencing authority for the tribes; tribes may impose longer sentences on Native Americans, not on non-tribal citizens (or non-native Americans). It enhances evidence sharing and federal accountability and increases officers on the ground in Indian Country, it streamlines the process for the BIA and IHS employees to testify in sexual assault cases, re-authorizes funding to support tribal courts.

In closing, all Americans have the right to public safety and security, but it's pre-eminently a federal responsibility to protect those rights in Indian Country. A vote against this bill in my opinion is a vote to continue the status quo of rampant violence and drug abuse in Indian Country, which we have an opportunity to make significant progress on. This legislation will only pass -- as it did in the Senate -- if it has significant bipartisan support. And I hope that support is available here today. I urge my colleagues on both sides to pass this important piece of legislation