Feb 17 2011

Sources of emotion

Published by at 6:36 pm under Idaho

Imagine that you have, scattered around your state, sworn police officers who have reason to arrest someone violating a state law, but are barred from taking them to court – to pursuing action against them. There you have the situation of the tribal police in Idaho. And there, after a vote in the Idaho House today which could have changed matters, the situation remains.

The statement of purpose of House Bill 111 says that it “authorizes law enforcement officers employed by a federally recognized Indian tribe in Idaho to exercise powers given to peace officers pursuant to, and in accordance with, the laws of the state of Idaho, within the
boundaries of the reservation of the tribe employing the law enforcement officer” – allows a tribal officer to enforce state law inside the reservation (doesn’t cover enforcement outside of it). And, “There is no negative fiscal impact to state or local government. The Indian tribe bears the expense of POST training under current law, which will continue. Positive fiscal impacts may result from the addition of qualified law enforcement officers employed by a federally recognized Indian tribe within the state of Idaho in the Indian reservation rural areas, without county or city expense.”

If you’re interested in stronger law enforcement, without even raising taxes, this should seem to be up your alley. It was backed by a conservative Republican, Representative Rich Wills of Glenns Ferry, a retired state trooper who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Sounds like a slam dunk.

But no; the House rejected it today, 34-35.

Betsy Russell of the Spokesman Review reported that Wills “said he’s received hundreds of calls and e-mails threatening him and questioning his integrity for backing the bill. “I’ve had threats I’d better never go into the county again,” he said. “I’ve been called all kinds of sundry names.” Opponents raised fears, ranging from the tribe taking away the guns of non-Indians who have concealed weapons permits and pass through the reservation to provisions of tribal code being used to impose civil penalties on non-Indians – something that already can occur today on the reservation. “This doesn’t change anything about that,” Wills said. Instead, it addressed criminal violations – saying tribal police officers could enforce state law against non-tribal members, but they’d have to be cited under state law and into state court.”

There was also this, from Representative Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, who was in favor of the bill, and who said during debate that he was “stunned to hear that the first question a dispatcher asks in Benewah County is whether the person calling in with an emergency is an Indian or non-Indian. That’s just not right, he said.”

Some of the bill’s opponents argued that the opposition really didn’t have racial undertones. Put that pitch in the category of a tough sell.

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