Update March 19, 2024: The bill as described below has been signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee. TVW coverage available here.

OLYMPIA — People who commit crimes on tribal lands would not be able to escape justice by fleeing into Washington state lands, under legislation passed unanimously by the House Wednesday.

SB 6146 would authorize Washington state law enforcement officers to enforce warrants issued by Washington’s 29 federally recognized tribes and empower them to transport people to tribal lands for prosecution.

“This law will help keep communities in Washington and on tribal lands safe, while respecting the constitutional rights of defendants,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), sponsor of the bill. “Our laws need to reflect the realities of our world today. We have been operating under laws written when travel between jurisdictions wasn’t easy and the technology to confirm identity didn’t exist, so this legislation modernizes our laws to address the problems that arise today, when it is easy to flee from one jurisdiction into another.”

“The safety of all Washingtonians is a responsibility across governmental families, and SB 6146 responds to those victims of crimes, from drug dealers to domestic violence,” said Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Anacortes), sponsor of House companion legislation. “We look forward to Gov. Inslee signing this bill into law, as this act reflects one of many injustices that Native Americans have faced in a place that was once their own.”

“Washington tribes and the state Legislature are weaving tribal and state justice and public safety systems and providing the time for the transition between a new system, new administration and sovereign nations,” Lekanoff said.

Lekanoff emphasized the importance of implementing the law carefully. “This law is a foundation for future state and tribal jurisdiction policy, regulation and fiscal recognition of sovereignty of governing bodies. I believe the old statement of this law in bipartisanship — it reflects the intent of the Legislature to work with the tribes and the executive branch to make future decisions that strengthen our commitments for a safe place for all.”

The bill was the result of collaboration between tribal and state law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys.

“This bill closes a jurisdictional gap allowing crimes to be committed on Indian reservations and then flight off-reservation where no legal process exists for state arrest and return of fugitives to the tribes,” said Judge Ron Whitener, retired chief judge of the Tulalip Tribal Court and a Squaxin Island Tribal member. “It also provides due process protections for fugitives by only allowing arrest and return to tribal custody if the tribe meets Constitutional requirements of the federal Tribal Law and Order Act.”

For tribes not yet meeting the federal requirements, the bill creates an extradition process requiring state court review of extradition prior to returning a fugitive to a tribe.

“The fact is that the tribes have been arresting and returning state fugitives under our treaty duties for 170 years, with no concerning incidents,” Whitener said. “We have complete confidence that our state law enforcement counterparts will do as fine a job under this bill, increasing safety and peace in our all of our communities.”

Chairman Steve Edwards of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community thanked Dhingra and Lekanoff for “convening a process that brought together all 29 tribes with Washington state law enforcement and prosecutors to work collaboratively on solutions through which the state can recognize tribal warrants. This legislation will help to keep all Washingtonians safe around the state and on tribal lands.”

Having been amended in the House, SB 6146 returns to the Senate for concurrence.