Violence Against Women Act Trips on a Technicality

Jun 20, 2012

Native American Legislative Update - June 2012

Violence Against Women Act Trips on a Technicality


Legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act was passed by the Senate in late April by a vote of 68 to 31. The Senate bill (S. 1925) included updates, as most reauthorization bills do, to ensure that the protections of the statute would reach all vulnerable populations, including immigrant women, Native American women, and gay, lesbian and transgendered victims.

Another Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill was then passed last month in the House (H.R. 4970) by a vote of 222-205, without the provisions protecting these vulnerable groups. In the four weeks since May 16, the House and the Senate have been wrangling and posturing over a technicality. To forestall problems that might arise by creating a new federal government expense, the Senate bill included a visa fee tacked on to the provisions that would protect immigrant women who are victims of sexual abuse or sex trafficking. The House defines the fee as a "revenue measure." The Constitution directs that all revenue measures must begin in the House.

There are various ways to work through this problem; even this divided Congress has found ways to amend an offending bill and get on with the conference process. But on this issue, the parties won't budge. So women who have no way to escape their abusers or stop the abuse are expected to be patient with more congressional delays.

Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians wrote last month on the critical need for the provisions in the Senate's reauthorization legislation that would protect Native Women, and on their constitutionality.

House Hearing on Rape and Sexual Violence in Indian Country Proposed:

Since the House bill does not include protections for Native women who are victims of sexual violence, two representatives have requested a hearing on the issue. On May 30, House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Markey (MA) and Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Ranking Member Boren (OK) wrote to full Committee Chairman Hastings (WA) and Subcommittee Chairman Young (AK), requesting that an oversight hearing be held on the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault against Native women. The Congressmen's press release and the text of the letter are available here.

See more articles in the June 2012 NALU.

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