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Senator Murkowski Pushes for More Tribal Authority in Prosecuting Crime

Lisa Murkowski
Senator Lisa Murkowski, who is expected to steer the Denali Commission's relocation efforts in the coming years. KNOM file (2015)

Senator Lisa Murkowski took time during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention to discuss her newly introduced legislation that would expand tribal jurisdiction in prosecuting certain violent crimes.

If Murkowski’s Alaska Tribal Public Safety Empowerment Act passes into law, five undetermined villages will become part of a pilot program allowing them to prosecute non-tribal members for certain violent crimes committed on tribal lands.

“The people in these communities need more than nothing. And so, this is what we are trying to do, to allow for just a little bit of expansion of opportunity using the assets that we have.”  

Once tribes are selected for the pilot program, those tribes could exercise their own authority to handle crimes of domestic and dating violence, sexual violence, violation of a protective order, stalking, drug trafficking, and assault of a law enforcement officer.

According to Murkowski, communities without law enforcement and who are primarily Alaska Native would be given priority by the U.S. Attorney General for participation in the pilot.

“We’ve been working with the Department of Justice and the BIA on this to make sure that this works.”

Tribes would be able to use their authority to decide punishment for the crime which could include banishment. Through a memorandum of agreement state agencies would be able to assist tribes across the country with enforcement.

Murkowski’s bill also allows two more tribes to pull together and form tribal consortiums.

“Included within that definition you can expand up to thirty (tribes). We recognize that as a pilot, you want to have enough participants so that you can demonstrate that something like this can work.”

While Congressman Don Young included similar legislation in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, that bill still has to pass through the Senate. Senator Murkowski says she drafted the Alaska Tribal Public Safety Empowerment Act as separate legislation to give Alaska tribes another, perhaps more immediate, resource for enforcing safety in their communities. 

Murkowski didn’t give a timeline for the bill to be discussed in the House but said she is working  with the Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs to refine the legislation. There is not a process in place yet for selecting which tribes would be part of the pilot initiative.

Image at top: Senator Lisa Murkowski speaking at the 2015 AFN convention. Photo from KNOM file.

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