Navajo Nation Council considers votes for law enforcement and transportation improvements

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - On May 19, the Navajo Nation Council considered and tabled legislation that would give voters the chance to vote on transportation improvements, adding police substations in some communities and whether the public should elect judges.

Legislation No. 0157-15 sponsored by Council Delegate Dwight Witherspoon (Black Mesa, Forest Lake, Hardrock, Pinon, Whippoorwill), sought a referendum to allow Navajo voters to decide whether or not the Navajo Nation should use a portion of the principle balance of the Permanent Trust Fund to support a Transportation Stimulus Plan.

The plan includes funding for the Navajo Nation Tribal Transportation Improvement Program, maintenance and safety road activities, airports, road maintenance yards, equipment, and non-paved road maintenance. When the bill was considered by the Naabik'iyáti' Committee May 14, members removed the amount from the bill pending further considerations.

During the special session, Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie (Churchrock, Iyanbito, Mariano Lake, Pinedale, Smith Lake, Thoreau) said the council should allow more time to consider the inclusion of additional transportation projects, and also to allow the council to consult with the Nation's new executive administration.

The council voted 17-3 to table the legislation pending further input, requiring that the council reconsider the measure no later than the summer session in July. If approved and signed into law, the referendum question would be placed on the ballot in an upcoming referendum election and would require two-thirds approval of registered Navajo voters who cast a ballot.

Council also tabled a bill sponsored by Council Delegate Kee Allen Begay, Jr. (Low Mountain, Many Farms, Nazlini, Tachee/Blue Gap, Tselani/Cottonwood) that would allow the public to vote on whether or not to use approximately $206 million from the Permanent Trust Fund to complete judicial and public safety facilities in the communities of Chinle, Dilkon, Shiprock, Pinon, and Fort Defiance.

The majority of the discussion centered on an amendment introduced by Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie (Baca/Prewitt, Casamero Lake, Counselor, Littlewater, Ojo Encino, Pueblo Pintado, Torreon, Whitehorse Lake), which proposed adding police sub-stations, fire stations, preventive treatment centers along with police housing to the list of projects.

Tsosie said police sub-stations would increase police presence and cut down on police response time for rural communities. However, Yazzie, who serves as chair of the Law and Order Committee, said that while he supports adding more police sub-stations, he felt the need to increase the number of police officers was much greater.

Council Delegate Alton Joe Shepherd (Jeddito, Cornfields, Ganado, Kin Dah Lichíí, Steamboat) recommended that the council develop a more comprehensive plan to present to the public and cautioned that drawing down funds from the principle balance of the Permanent Trust Fund would also reduce the Nation's annual revenue from the interest earned from the principle.

A representative from the Office of the Controller informed council members that the current balance of the Nation's Permanent Trust Fund stands at $1.893 billion.

Council also tabled a proposed referendum that would allow voters to determine if the public should elect Navajo Nation district court judges and Supreme Court justices.

A separate bill sought the approval for a referendum to determine if the Navajo Nation Supreme Court should increase the number of associate justices from two to five justices selected from each of the Nation's five agencies.

The Navajo Nation Council plans to put on meetings to address the issues raised during the May 19 session and will reconsider the referendum measures at a later date.

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