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Proposal to recognize tribal mental health, protective orders narrowly advances

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Proposal to recognize tribal mental health, protective orders narrowly advances

Mar 04, 2024 | 6:00 am ET
By Zach Wendling
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Proposal to recognize tribal mental health, protective orders narrowly advances
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State Sens. Jane Raybould (left) and Tom Brewer meet on the floor of the Legislature during floor debate. March 3, 2023. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — A legislative proposal seeking to require Nebraska law enforcement and hospitals to recognize tribal courts’ emergency protective custody agreements narrowly advanced last week.

Legislative Bill 1288, introduced by State Sen. Jane Raybould of Lincoln, would require law enforcement and hospitals to honor such agreements, which many county mental health boards already do. The measure advanced 25-10, netting the minimum number of votes needed.

LB 1288 faces two more possible rounds of debate.

‘A bill that will save lives’

Raybould, in a statement, said she’s grateful to her colleagues for their support and thanked Chief Justice Mike Heavican, State Court Administrator Corey Steel and the Tribal Consortium of the Nebraska Supreme Court for their assistance as they worked to find solutions.

“Passing this legislation will allow an individual at risk of harming themselves or others to receive the timely care they need,” Raybould said. “It is a bill that will save lives.” 

State Sen. Jen Day of Omaha, chair of the Legislature’s State Tribal Relations Committee, led the debate in Raybould’s absence Thursday. Day said the bill would recognize mental health and dangerous sex offender commitment orders, allowing for a person in crisis to be transported to a health care facility and providing for reimbursement.

“The bill is very straightforward and seeks to close the gap that exists for our citizens who find themselves in a mental health crisis,” Day said during floor debate.

Day and other supporters noted the bill does not change the jurisdiction of tribal courts, requiring orders only of individuals “domiciled” within Indian Country.

Expanding hospital support

State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, whose district includes the Winnebago and the Omaha Tribes of Nebraska, said she’s heard from residents who “had no idea” the bill was coming up, which is why they did not weigh in sooner. 

Members of both tribes testified in support of the bill at its Feb. 1 Judiciary Committee hearing.

Albrecht said she opposed the bill because Thurston County has fewer sheriff’s deputies compared to other parts of the state. She said this could potentially complicate transportation needs.

Instead, she suggested that the Winnebago Tribe’s hospital could expand and create a dedicated mental health wing.

“I think it would be easier to bring the doctors in than to have to transport out,” Albrecht said. “I’m in support of an answer, but I don’t think this is the answer for us.”

Need to change the system

State Sen. Tom Brewer, who is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said the Legislature probably needed a “Native American 101 class.”

He described conversations with his brother, a sheriff in Sheridan County, where the current option may be for someone with an emergency order to be detained in jail, for their safety or the safety of others, or be sent home with no care. 

“If we roll them back into a cell, I think we have doomed the medical situation to only get worse,” Brewer said.

State Sen. Carolyn Bosn of Lincoln shared a copy of neutral testimony from Tony Green of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, outlining some cautions about the bill. These included funding and the logistics in carrying out the measure. 

Day said DHHS’s concerns were addressed in an amendment that the agency helped author. Lawmakers adopted those changes 29-6

Bosn is a member of the Judiciary Committee, which voted 8-0 to advance LB 1288.

‘A much better solution’

State Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair said LB 1288 “muddies the water quite a bit” and worried about the bill’s definition of someone domiciled within Indian Country potentially being too vague.

Brewer said if he had his way, he’d define Indian Country “from the East Coast to the West, but that probably ain’t going to happen.” He instead pointed to a “pretty simple” U.S. Code definition.

“This is not the perfect answer,” Brewer said. “But it is a much better solution than to leave things the way they are now.”