Bill extending full faith and credit to tribal orders heads to full Senate

A bill to extend full faith and credit to tribal court orders from the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians is headed to the Indiana Senate after a committee gave unanimous support to the legislation.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday endorsed House Bill 1441 with a 10-0 vote. Authored by Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, the bill would allow Indiana state courts to recognize tribal orders from the Pokagon Band, with the understanding that those tribal courts would recognize orders from Indiana state courts.

Already, 44 states extend full faith and credit to tribal court orders. If passed, HB 1441 would mark the first time Indiana entered into such an agreement, DeLaney said, noting the Pokagon Band is the only federally recognized tribe that is active in Indiana.

DeLaney likened tribal courts to those in other jurisdictions. Just as Indiana courts would, for example, recognize a judgment from the Ohio Supreme Court, HB 1441 would allow the Hoosier State to recognize judgments from the Pokagon Band.

There are already some full-faith-and-credit provisions under federal law, according to Kerry Hyatt Bennett, chief legal counsel for the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who testified in favor of the bill. She gave the example of civil protective orders issued in Indiana, which under federal law must be recognized across state and tribal lines.

HB 1441 would extend that requirement to other orders such as money judgments, DeLaney said. Especially now that the Pokagon Band operates the Four Winds Casino out of South Bend, DeLaney said, it is important to have reciprocity in place.

Republican Sen. Mike Bohacek, whose district includes the Four Winds Casino, noted during the Wednesday hearing that there have been “issues” with the tribe not enforcing Indiana state court judgments such as child support judgments. He asked if HB 1441 would remedy that issue.

DeLaney responded affirmatively, telling Bohacek that if the Pokagon Band wants its orders to be recognized in Indiana courts, it must recognize Indiana court orders.

“If they don’t recognize ours then they get no benefit,” DeLaney said.

Annette Nickel, prosecutor and presenting officer for the Pokagon Band, offered a similar description, telling lawmakers the agreement would simply be “two governments working together.”

She noted that she currently has two orders from Indiana courts on her desk, each with a request to be recognized in the Pokagon Band tribal court. Those orders don’t fall within the full-faith-and-credit requirements under federal law, she said, so she must decide whether to recommend that the tribal court recognize the Indiana orders.

But under HB 1441, there would be no question for her to answer.

“So this is just closing things,” she said. “Those things are going to be happening.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate, where Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, indicated he may offer an amendment.

Specifically, Koch said he was exploring an amendment that would explicitly note that when the Pokagon Band moves for recognition of a tribal court order in state court, the band would be responsible for all related court fees. He said he researched other states’ full-faith-and-credit agreements and found that to be a common practice.

DeLaney supported that idea, saying he believed that concept was implicit in the bill but that he was not opposed to stating it explicitly. Nickel also said the band had no objection to that amendment.

The bill was not yet scheduled for a Senate second reading at IL deadline.

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