This vote was on whether to table (or kill) an amendment by John Thune, R-S.D., that would take $20 million from the underlying bill’s budget for the Legal Services Corporation and redirect it to federal lawyers that help fight violent crime on American Indian reservations. The Legal Services Corporation is a federal agency that funds programs that provide free legal aid to people of modest means. Thune’s amendment was offered to the bill that funds science programs such as NASA, as well as the departments of Commerce and Justice.
Thune said that in 2007 the Government Accountability Office raised questions about the LSC’s financial practices, and found that 12 employees were receiving salary compensation above the statutory limits. Thune said under his amendment the LSC would still receive more money than they had last year, but less of a raise than what the underlying bill envisions. Thune said that money could be put to better use by redirecting it to the U.S. attorneys office that helps prosecute crime on Indian reservations. Thune said a recent Wall Street Journal article found that only 30 percent of crimes that occurred on tribal land referred to the U.S. Attorneys Office were actually prosecuted, compared to 56 percent for all other cases.
“It goes on to say that one of the reasons those cases don’t get prosecuted in Indian country is because Federal prosecutors have long distances involved, a lack of resources, and the cost of hauling witnesses and defendants to Federal court. As a consequence, a lot of cases are not being dealt with,” Thune said.
Echoing the sentiments of several Democrats that spoke against the amendment, Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said he is very sympathetic to the needs of the same American Indians Thune represents, but that the LSC also serves a needy populace.
“I cannot support an amendment, even though it adds money we need, that we will pay for by eliminating—by reducing funding for legal services, precisely because … legal services are the access to the legal system for low-income folks. It is the only opportunity they have, in many cases, for them to access the legal system,” Dorgan said. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., then moved to table (kill) Thune’s amendment.
By a vote of 62-31, the Senate killed the amendment. All but two Democrats present voted to kill the amendment. Of Republicans present, 18 voted to kill the amendment and 29 voted against killing the amendment. Thus, the measure went forward without language that would have shifted $20 million from the Legal Services Corporation to shore up funding for prosecuting crimes on American Indian reservations.