2004 federal legislative roundup.

Author:Summerill, Joseph
Position:Judicial News

In 2004, the U.S. Congress actively pursued several pieces of legislation, which if enacted, would have impacted federal, state and local corrections. As featured in the February 2005 issue of Corrections Today, one of the most prominent correctional issues to be addressed by Congress in 2004 was the state of Indian jails. A scathing report was issued in September 2004 by the Department of Interior Inspector General's Office, which described Indian detention facilities as "a national disgrace with many facilities having conditions comparable to those found in third-world countries." In response to this report, Sen. Max Baucus, R-Mont., introduced late in 2004 legislation that called for the amending of the Internal Revenue Code to provide funding for Indian tribal prison facilities. Since the bill was not passed before Congress adjourned for 2004, Baucus is expected to reintroduce it in 2005 with hearings scheduled for late winter or early spring.

Baucus' bill would provide tribes with the authority to issue tax credit bonds for the construction, maintenance and operation of their detention facilities. Under current law, an Indian tribe may finance the construction of a prison or detention facility with tax-exempt bonds to the extent that the construction and use by the tribe is "an essential governmental function of the tribe." However, there are limitations under the current law as to the extent to which a facility built with bonds issued by Indian tribes can be used for private business. However, the legislation offered by Baucus would shift the focus away from bonds issued by tribes that provide interest to their investors and, instead, toward tax credit bonds. This shift would allow tribes with little resources to earn interest off the proceeds instead of investors earning the interest. The hope is that these bonds will attract companies interested in constructing and or operating an Indian detention facility, while also providing a steady stream of income to the tribe.

In introducing the bill, Baucus noted that there was "a crisis occurring today in Indian country.... This crisis is not something new. It has been decades in the making. For too long, we have neglected to adequately address this issue. This crisis is the condition of Indian jails." Baucus explained that there are more than 70 Indian jails in America, and almost all of them suffer from being highly understaffed and overpopulated. As a result, according to Baucus, "there are extremely...

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