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Tribes face deadline to join national sex offender registry
Monday, April 30, 2007
Filed Under: Law | National

Tribes across the country face a critical deadline if they want to prevent state governments from asserting jurisdiction on their reservations.

Under a little-noticed provision of a new federal law, tribes have to pass a resolution by July 27 to join a national offender registry and notification system. If tribes don't act by that date, the state will automatically have jurisdiction to enforce the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which became law last year.

The provision was drafted with almost no input from tribes. "There wasn't any consultation or really any recognition of how tribes have been addressing this issue," said Virginia Davis of the National Congress of American Indians at the recent Federal Bar Association's Indian law conference.

NCAI has drafted a model resolution for tribes to consider as the date approaches. Davis said all tribes, even in Public Law 280 states where states already have civil and criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country, should take action

"It's a hard and fast deadline," Davis said. "We have a window of opportunity that will close on July 27 and if a tribe hasn't taken action by that date, they will be left out of the system ... forever."

At the same time, NCAI is working on Capitol Hill on potential changes to the law. A resolution passed at the group's recent winter session in Washington, D.C., called the provision an "unprecedented diminishment of tribal sovereignty."

"It's been a long time since I've seen Congress write that kind of a law," Juana Majel Dixon, the secretary of NCAI, said at the time.

But even if the law isn't changed, Davis said tribes will have two years from July 27 to develop and maintain a sex offender registry. The Department of Justice can extend the deadline and is authorized to make grants to help tribes comply with the act, although no money has been appropriated so far.

Citing high rates of child abuse and domestic and family violence, tribes have been working to address the issue of sex offenders. One achievement came with the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2005, which contained a tribal-specific title.

Title IX authorized a national tribal sex offender registry and authorized tribes to enter information about their cases into a national criminal information database. NCAI says the proposed system, which has not been funded by the Bush administration, is more consistent with tribal sovereignty than the provisions in the Adam Walsh Act.

Separately, tribes have been passing their own laws to implement sex offender registries and have entered into agreements with states. Tribes in Minnesota, which falls under Public Law 280, have been cooperating with the state since last year, after a court case raised doubts about the state's jurisdiction on reservations.

"Far from being an abdication of tribal sovereignty, we believe this was an extension of our cooperative law enforcement agreement and was the ultimate expression of government-to-government relations," Robert Bohn, a lawyer for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota, said at the Federal Bar conference.

If the tribe hadn't acted, a sex offender could live on the reservation without reporting to tribal or state authorities, Bohn said. "You are creating safe haven for child molesters, kidnappers and the worst predatory offenders," he said.

The Adam Walsh Act contains some language on cooperation. The section recognizes the right of tribes to develop their own offender systems or to "arrange" for a state or local jurisdiction to carry out such a system through a cooperative agreement.

Relevant Laws:
Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act | Violence Against Women Act of 2005

Relevant Documents:
White House Fact Sheet: The Adam Walsh Child Protection And Safety Act Of 2006 | President Signs H.R. 4472, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006

Related Court Decision:
Minnesota v. Peter John Jones (March 22, 2007)

Relevant Links:
National Congress of American Indians - http://www.ncai.org
Office of Violence Against Women, DOJ - http://www.usdoj.gov/ovw

Related Stories:
'No one cares' about violence against Native women (4/30)
Editorial: Injustice for indigenous women (4/27)
Editorial: U.S. fails to protect Native women (4/26)
BIA ties violence against women to meth abuse (4/26)
Violence against Native women a 'national disgrace' (4/25)
Report details 'maze' Native women victims face (4/25)
Amnesty report on violence against Native women (4/24)
Court allows state offender registry on reservations (3/23)
Opinion: Tribes and national sex offender registry (3/23)
NCAI 2007: Updates from winter session in Washington (02/27)
Minnesota tribes work with state to track offenders (08/02)
Editorial: State shouldn't fight tribal sovereignty (8/1)
Pawlenty wants jurisdiction ruling overturned (7/29)
State may seek agreements with tribes on registry (7/28)
Minnesota appeals court limits state jurisdiction (7/27)

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