Recognition of tribal involuntary commitment orders advanced

A proposal meant to facilitate cooperation between tribal, state and local authorities regarding involuntary commitment of tribal members advanced to select file Feb. 29.

Sen. Jane Raybould
Sen. Jane Raybould

LB1288, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Jane Raybould, would require state and local authorities to recognize tribal hold orders, commitment orders and emergency protective custody orders issued for residents of Indian country, as defined by federal law.

The bill also would allow for transportation of persons civilly committed under tribal law and provide for reimbursement of treatment and transportation costs by the tribe.

Omaha Sen. Jen Day, chairperson of the State-Tribal Relations Committee, introduced the proposal during debate. She said the committee voted to give LB1288 a priority designation because of its importance to tribal leaders in Nebraska. The bill seeks to close a gap in state law, she said, and help protect tribal members who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

Currently, Day said, emergency protective custody orders issued by tribal courts are not recognized in state law. The result, she said, is that some local law enforcement officials will not transport an individual under such an EPC order to a facility that can provide the appropriate level of care — or, if they do, the individual may be turned away from the facility.

“If either of these needs cannot be met, which is often the case, we are putting the health and safety of an individual at risk of harm to themselves or others in great jeopardy,” Day said.

An amendment offered by Raybould that would address concerns raised by the state Department of Health and Human Services regarding payment for transportation and treatment was adopted 29-6.

Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht, whose legislative district includes the Winnebago and Omaha reservations, opposed the bill and the amendment. She said the Winnebago Tribe has a hospital in Thurston County that could be enhanced to provide the care needed.

“I think it would be easier to bring the doctors in than to have to transport [people] out,” Albrecht said.

Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon agreed that the hospital in Winnebago should be supported, but said doing so is a long-term project that would not solve the current problem. County sheriffs are being forced to place individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis in jail cells without treatment because some facilities won’t recognize an order issued by a tribal court, he said.

“What we’re trying to do is deal with a crisis now,” Brewer said.

Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad supported the bill and the amendment. She said the proposal could be confusing to people who are not attorneys because it involves complex issues of tribal governance, but that its provisions should not be considered controversial.

Conrad said Raybould’s amendment was written in consultation with DHHS, experts in tribal law and other stakeholders. It was crafted to eliminate any concerns regarding reimbursement for transportation and services and to respect tribal sovereignty, she said.

“This is a critical bill that is long overdue, has been carefully vetted by the legal experts on this issue, and we need to move forward,” Conrad said.

Following adoption of the Raybould amendment, lawmakers voted 25-10 to advance the bill to select file. Twenty-five votes were needed.

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