Florida's law enforcement community has joined forces to fight a proposal by the Miccosukee Indians to get rid of state jurisdiction on reservation land.
All 67 sheriffs, the 20 state attorneys who prosecute crimes and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have urged legislators to reject heavily lobbied bills pending in the House and Senate.
Law enforcement officials fear the change would make it harder to prosecute any crimes involving members of the tribe, especially when suspects or witnesses flee onto the reservation. Some officials also fear the change could help the tribe establish full-scale gambling casinos on the reservation.
The Miccosukees have hired 16 lobbyists, including Ron Book; former U.S. Rep. Larry Smith; Jim Krog, former chief of staff for Gov. Lawton Chiles; and former U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen.
On Thursday a House subcommittee voted 4-3 in favor of one of the bills (HB 269) despite strong protests from law enforcement officials.
The bill would prohibit state officials from investigating or prosecuting crimes between Indians on reservation land and eliminate the jurisdiction of the state's civil courts. Problems arising between members of the tribe on reservation land would be investigated and pursued by the tribe or federal officials.
Rep. Rafael Arza, R-Hialeah, the bill's sponsor, said much of the opposition to the bill is based on misinformation.
Lehtinen said the Miccosukees merely want the rights already afforded in many other states.
"This has nothing to do with gambling and it doesn't interfere with criminal prosecutions on or off the reservation," Letninen told lawmakers. "And it doesn't have anything to do with land the Miccosukees might buy in the future. It's not reservation land until federal authorities go through a complex process."
Dione Carroll, general counsel for the tribe, called the old law allowing the state to pursue crimes on the reservation "a relic and an insult to the Miccosukee people."
The bill does not involve reservation land owned by the much larger Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Rep. Heather Fiorentino, R-New Port Richey, questioned whether federal authorities are prepared to assume more work in light of their current focus on terrorism. She urged the committee to delay consideration of the bill until they can discuss the issue with the federal officials who would have to prosecute crimes on the reservation.
A similar bill filed last year died on House and Senate calendars after winning committee approval.
HB 269 is scheduled to go next to the House Committee on Public Safety and Crime Prevention. A similar bill sponsored by Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua, is pending in the Senate.