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Bills affecting reservation law enforcement gaining ground

Jan 29, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Two bills that would affect law enforcement on the Wind River Indian Reservation have advanced in the Wyoming Legislature.

House Bill 27 returned to the Wyoming House on Jan. 15 after lawmakers rejected it last year. The bill would expand law enforcement authority for tribal police officers, including highway patrol agencies, by allowing them to enforce state traffic laws on the reservation. The bill, sponsored by the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee, was introduced Jan. 8 and remains in the judiciary committee for further discussion.

The bill deals with tribal affiliation issues and limited jurisdiction.

"They could cite non-natives on those highways," said State Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete.

The absence of the bill has created a challenge for applying state laws to individuals who are not enrolled tribal members.

Last year's failure to move the bill forward was due in part to the difficulty of explaining that tribal police officers can already stop anybody on the reservation but struggle when determining which agency should address a certain individual and whether a person should be taken to state or tribal court.

Overlapping federal, state and tribal laws led lawmakers to hesitate on the bill.

"A lot of folks are not comfortable with that in Fremont County," Goggles said. "This is nothing new."

Under tribal law, reservation police officers can only detain individuals, and then call a different police force. Tribal officers can issue citations under state law and when a pursuit goes beyond reservation limits.

"The grant of authority is intended to increase the number of law enforcement officers available to quickly and effectively respond to traffic violations, including driving under the influence of alcohol," reads the bill.

HB21

Another bill sponsored by the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee, House Bill 21, would extend immunity and benefits to police officers who provide law enforcement assistance on the Wind River Indian Reservation. It passed on third reading in the House of Representatives and is now in the Senate.

"It would provide them coverage when they assist Wind River police with a call," Goggles said.

Pension, disability, worker's compensation and additional benefits would still be applied to them if they perform their duties on the reservation.

A 55-4 vote will allow it to be considered again with amendments approved.

Goggles said he also is monitoring any activity that may affect both tribes financially.

"So far those impacts are very minimal" Goggles said.

Related content:
 
Legislature, Wyoming
Ethete