Agency rules could protect ICWA processes in Wyoming while task force develops state-level law

State lawmakers are taking a “belt and suspenders” approach as they prepare for the potential overturn of the Indian Child Welfare Act next year.

The Wyoming Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations approved a bill draft this month that would create an ICWA task force to “develop legislative recommendations to incorporate the protections and procedures of (ICWA) into state law.”

The task force recommendations would be due by July 2024, according to the draft – but Eastern Shoshone Business Councilmember Michael Ute said that could be too late, since the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to make its ICWA decision in 2023.

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“The Eastern Shoshone Business Council opposes this legislation,” Ute said, reading a letter from ESBC Chairman John St. Clair. “We cannot understand why the Select Committee cannot move forward and draft a (state ICWA law) for consideration.”

“It has to be done sooner than later,” Ute said in his own words. “The longer we drag this out, the closer we get to the deadline where it might be federally overturned.”

It’s “looking pretty likely” that ICWA will be reversed, he noted – and Wyoming Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, agreed.

“I think that you’re correct about the Supreme Court’s probable decision next year,” Salazar said. “I would like to see a state ICWA law, and I will support it.”

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Changing the rules

Wyoming Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, said the task force strategy allows more people to be involved in crafting the state-level ICWA law. But Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, pointed out that, if the ESBC doesn’t support the idea, “it’s not going to go anywhere.”

Instead, Case turned to Wyoming Department of Family Services director Korin Schmidt, asking whether her agency could create new rules formalizing the state’s current ICWA processes without requiring any legislative action.

“It’s kind of a Band-Aid approach,” Case said. “But we would have something in place (while we) continue this task force route.”

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Schmidt said she would research the question and get back to him.

More support

Representatives from the Northern Arapaho Business Council said their “preference” would be for the committee to “introduce a state ICWA law in the next (legislative) session,” but they are also “open to working with a task force to produce a future bill.”

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon supports “looking at a state ICWA law generally,” special counsel Kit Wendtland said, but “I don’t think we’re married to the one idea – whether it’s this task force – or another.”

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“I don’t have a silver bullet for what the perfect approach is, (but) we’re happy to work with the committee on that,” Wendtland said. “It’s something we would consider as a policy matter, and that is of interest.”

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