June 19, 2019

Udall Leads Hearing on 5 Bills, Questions Administration’s Commitment to Improving Public Safety in Native Communities


For Immediate Release

June 19, 2019
Contact: Ned Adriance
202.228.6870 | news@tomudall.senate.gov|  @SenatorTomUdall

Udall Leads Hearing on 5 Bills, Questions Administration’s Commitment to Improving Public Safety in Native Communities

Highlights the importance of congressional action on Tribal VAWA bills, law enforcement resources improvements

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, joined committee chairman John Hoeven to convene a legislative hearing on five public safety bills, including two Udall-led bills – S. 290, the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act (NYTOPA), and S. 1853, the Bridging Agency Data Gaps and Ensuring Safety (BADGES) for Native Communities Act.

“Today, we have an opportunity to take action and make good on our promises to improve public safety in Indian Country.  All five bills up for discussion at this hearing put forward concrete solutions to address the two core barriers at the heart of all tribal public safety issues – jurisdiction and resources,” said Udall in his opening statement.

However, Udall noted his frustration with the administration for its failure to finalize official positions in time to testify at the hearing.

“DOJ’s testimony claims that, as a direct result of Attorney General Barr’s visit to Alaska, ‘Department leadership at the highest levels have expressed a renewed commitment to improving public safety in Indian Country.’  But, where is the evidence of that renewed commitment today?  And if the Department truly ‘stands ready to do its part’ on addressing the MMIW crisis, why is it not prepared for this hearing?” said Udall.

“These bipartisan bills are an opportunity for us to transform talk about the importance of improving Tribal public safety into concrete action.  I will not abide any more empty words.  And, Indian Country cannot and should not accept any more lip service.  It is past time for the administration to show some follow-through,” continued Udall.

While the administration was unprepared to take positions on the five bills at the hearing, both Tribal witnesses expressed support for Udall’s bill.

Michelle Demmert, Chief Justice of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes, testified, “We strongly support the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act.  NYTOPA recognizes that Native children and law enforcement personnel involved in domestic violence incidents on Tribal lands are equally in need of the protections that were extended to adult domestic violence victims in VAWA 2013…We appreciate Senator Udall, Senator Murkowski, and Senator Smith’s effort to advance legislation that will fill some of the gaps in jurisdiction that continue to leave women and children without adequate protection on Tribal lands.”

Lynn Malerba, Chief of the Mohegan Tribe and Secretary of United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund (USET SPF), testified, “USET SPF supports BADGES for Native Communities Act as it seeks to provide parity for Tribal Nations in access to federal crime information, collection, and tracking. This is an important step toward building a stronger public safety foundation in Indian Country.”

NYTOPA builds on Tribal jurisdiction provisions in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) of 2013 by extending the laws protections to Native children and law enforcement personnel on Tribal lands.  

The BADGES for Native Communities Act addresses critical public safety needs in Indian Country by addressing federal inefficiencies that hurt Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement recruitment and retention, increasing the effectiveness of federal missing persons resources, and giving Tribes and States resources to coordinate responses to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis.

As vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Udall has led a number of initiatives to improve public safety in Indian Country.  Last Congress, Udall helped secure passage of the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act and convened hearings and listening sessions to hear from Tribes about Indian Country’s Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), MMIW, and public safety priorities.  Last month, Udall led a day of action to highlight the important role VAWA reauthorization must play to address the MMIW crisis and increase public safety in Native communities. 

Udall was also a leader in the 2013 effort to amend VAWA to restore Tribal jurisdiction over domestic violence crimes committed on reservations, which was instrumental to ensuring that Native women enjoy the same protection from domestic abuse as all other women in the United States.