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Bill to try to improve Native American children’s lives closer to becoming law

WASHINGTON-- A bill that would create a commission to explore issues facing Native American children is closer to becoming law after unanimously passing the U.S. House on Monday.

Hoeven
John Hoeven

WASHINGTON-- A bill that would create a commission to explore issues facing Native American children is closer to becoming law after unanimously passing the U.S. House on Monday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., already passed the Senate unanimously last year. With minor changes made by the House, the Senate will need to sign off before it heads to President Barack Obama’s desk, she said.

“One of the concerns that I have is the lack of time to get this done in this Congress, but we’re going to push as hard as we can to make it happen,” Heitkamp said in an interview. “But this is clearly a very, very positive step.”

The bill would create the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children to study issues such as high rates of poverty, high unemployment rates, child abuse, domestic violence and drug abuse, according to a news release. The commission then would make recommendations to Congress and the executive branch.

“By all measurements, we’re failing Native American kids, and we’ve got to figure out how we move to a better success ratio, whether it’s graduation rates, whether it is fewer Native American children living in poverty, fewer Native American children being exposed to drugs and alcohol,” Heitkamp said.

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The 11 people who will make up the commission’s membership would be appointed by the president and congressional leadership from both parties.

The bill was the first Heitkamp introduced as a United States senator back in 2013. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., along with Minnesota’s Democratic senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, are bill co-sponsors.

“I just don’t want to be someone who serves North Dakota, all of North Dakota, and forgets the most vulnerable,” Heitkamp said.

A 2014 White House report found more than 1 in 3 American Indian and Alaska Native children live in poverty, and the graduation rate among that population is 67 percent, the lowest of any racial/ethnic demographic group across all schools.

Related Topics: HEIDI HEITKAMP
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