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Navajo Nation Council approves COVID-19 curfew fines to help public safety

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A bill to allow the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety to use money raised from fines collected due to curfew violations under the COVID-19 public health emergency orders cleared the tribal council last week.

Navajo police officers started issuing citations last April to individuals who are not complying with curfews, a violation that carries the possibility of jail time or a fine that could go has high as $1,000.

Those fees – when processed by the court – are deposited into the tribe's general fund, an action the bill's sponsor, Delegate Wilson Stewart Jr., described as unbeneficial to the division that has been overseeing enforcement and aiding in the pandemic response.

Navajo police officers from the Shiprock District conduct a checkpoint on April 1, 2020 to remind the public about the nightly curfew on the Navajo Nation.

"If we don't put this legislation in place, all those funds go back into the general pot," Stewart said in remarks during the council's winter session on Jan. 28.

He added that the division would use the amount to buy needed items such as antiseptics, disinfectants and personal protective equipment for employees working in seven departments.

While the division's executive director, Jesse Delmar, touted the need for the money, some delegates expressed concern that the bill lacked a detailed plan for managing the funding.

As a member of the Law and Order Committee, which is the oversight committee for the division, Delegate Vince James said he hears complaints from employees about poor communication from division leadership and about the lack of resources, so it is important to know how the money will be used.

"That's the part I always try to stress, what are you going to use the fund on? How are the funds going to be spent?" James said.

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Dana Bobroff, lead attorney for the council, explained the bill can be approved without a fund management plan and that strategy can be developed later.

The bill states that the division has up to 30 days to develop a plan after it is enacted. Such a plan would need to be presented to the Law and Order Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee, where final authority rests.

Although the council passed the measure by a simple majority vote, it still needs to go to Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez for his review and consideration.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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