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A bill to create a study committee to improve Native children’s lives was killed in the South Dakota House of Representatives on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 191 was approved on the Senate side and then got unanimous approval in the House Judiciary Committee, but two days later it died on the House floor.
Victoria Wicks reports.
Senate Bill 191 required a 17-member committee to meet at least eight times in 18 months with the Legislative Research Council coordinating the effort.
State Rep. Tony Vanhuisen (R-SD) said during House discussion that the bill required too much.
“Nine of the 17 members are from the tribes, just over half. Two from DSS, two from the court system, then just four legislators. So four legislators on a 17-person committee, but we’re paying for it.”
State Rep. Peri Pourier (Oglala Sioux/D-SD) justified including all nine tribal nations inside South Dakota’s borders.
“They have their own independent taxation compact agreements, they have their own agreements with DSS, and they all have their own policies.”
Rep. Pourier said tribal families are in crisis, with Native Americans in the top tier of problems such as incarceration rates, dropout rates, and health issues.
“This is a problem that the tribes cannot solve on their own. They still need the state of South Dakota. And this is not a problem that the state of South Dakota can address on its own. You need the tribes. We need each other.”
Rep. Pourier noted that the commission might find a way to assist Native children and families to prevent those failures, but instead the state spends millions to deal with the negative outcomes.
“We’re allocating hundreds of millions of dollars for new state prisons.”
The bill failed by a vote of 42 to 26.
Also in South Dakota, a law that established a State-Tribal Relations Committee has been amended to reduce the mandatory number of Democrats serving on it.
The House of Representatives voted to pass Senate Bill 69 Wednesday.
Its prime sponsor says the new makeup better reflects the will of South Dakota voters.
The State-Tribal Relations Committee by law consists of ten legislators, with a minimum of four members from the minority party.
Senate Bill 69 drops that minimum number to two.
Republicans currently hold 90% of the seats in the legislature.
State Sen. Lee Schoenbeck (R-SD) introduced the bill at the Senate State Affairs hearing in January.
He said the law no longer reflects the reality of the political situation.
“When they originally passed this, it probably didn’t seem so strange, because there used to be a lot of Democrats in the legislature.”
The committee arose from reconciliation efforts that started with Gov. George Mickelson (R-SD), who died in office in 1993.
Sen. Schoenbeck said tribes benefit from having legislators on the committee who are not Native.
“It doesn’t make much sense to have the tribes come to the committee and tell tribal members, ‘Hey, here’s what’s going on in tribal country.’ It makes a lot more sense to have the tribes come and talk to people that don’t live in tribal country.”
Senate Bill 69 passed through that committee and went on to clear both chambers.
At its last legislative appearance in the House, Rep. Pourier tried to get the chamber to approve an amendment that required appointment of legislators who represent districts containing tribal lands.
“This isn’t about party. This is about the voice of those citizens that are in the tribal nations who elect their leaders.”
That amendment failed and the House approved the bill by a vote of 57-11.5
The Bridging Agency Data Gaps & Ensuring Safety (BADGES) for Native Communities Act was introduced in Congress Wednesday by U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse (D-WA), and U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk/D-KS).
The bill seeks to strengthen tribal law enforcement and increase public safety in Indian Country.
It includes several provisions to address missing and murdered Indigenous people.
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