On October 30, 2013, Senators Heitkamp (D-ND) and Murkowski (R-AK) introduced legislation to establish a commission on Native American children. The bill, S 1622, is entitled the “Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native American Children Act” and was referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The Commission is to undertake a comprehensive study of tribal, federal, state, and local programs that serve Native children and make recommendations based on its findings.
The Senators’ introductory statements are attached and a copy of the bill is available at: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113s1622is/pdf/BILLS-113s1622is.pdf
The 11-member Commission would be located in the Office of Tribal Justice within the Department of Justice. The President would appoint three commissioners and the remainder would be appointed by congressional leadership. The bill would require that commissioners have expertise in Indian affairs, health care, education, juvenile justice and social service programs as they relate to Native children. In addition, at least one member would “be responsible for providing the Commission with insight into and input from Native children on the matters studied by the Commission” and one member is to have expertise in statistics or social science research. Commissioners would be appointed for a three-year term. Upon a two-thirds vote of the Commission one or more employees of the Departments of Justice, Interior, Education and Health and Human Services are to be detailed to the Commission.
The Commission would establish a Native Advisory Committee consisting of one representative of Indian tribes from each region of the BIA and one Native Hawaiian. Advisory Committee members are to have expertise in the matters studied by the Commission and serve as an advisory body. The Advisory Committee would establish a Native Children Subcommittee consisting of at least one youth (not older than age 24) from each BIA region and one Native Hawaiian. The Native youth chosen are to “have experience serving on the council of a tribe, regional or national youth organization.”
The bill includes a list of issues that are to be evaluated by the Commission, including the impact of concurrent jurisdiction on child welfare systems, barriers to obtaining sufficient federal and non-federal financial support for programs benefitting Native children, and obstacles to obtaining valid statistical data. Following the study, the Commission is to develop goals for federal policy relating to Native children and make recommendations “on necessary modifications and improvements to programs that serve Native children at the Federal, State, and tribal level that integrate the cultural strengths of the communities of the Native children …” Among the many areas for which recommendations would be expected are those to reduce the disproportionate rate at which Native children are in child protective services and in foster homes; improve the mental and physical health of Native children; increase school attendance, graduation rates and academic proficiency for Native children; improve services for incarcerated Native children and reduce incarceration and recidivism rates; expand access to a continuum of early development and learning services from prenatal to age five; development of comprehensive, multi-agency wrap-around services for youth; increased flexibility in federal programs that are designed to benefit Native children; improved data collection; and identification of successful models of programs in the areas studied by the Commission.
The Commission would hold hearings in the course of its work and at least five hearings are to be held in Native communities. A witness requested to appear before the Commission is to be paid fees and allowances as are provided in section 1821 of title 28, United States Code. The bill provides that up to $2 million in unobligated balances from funds made available to the Secretary of Interior, the Attorney General or the Secretary of Health and Human Services be made available to carry out the work of the Commission.
The Commission is to file a report within three years of all its members being appointed and funds made available to carry out its work. The report is to be filed with the President, Congress, and the White House Council on Native American Affairs.
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