Violence Against (Some) Women Act - Reathorized in the House

May 16, 2012

Native American Legislative Update - May 2012

Violence Against (Some) Women Act -- Reauthorized in the House

Congress has now approved two versions of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.

The Senate approved S. 1925 on April 26 with a strong bi-partisan vote of 68 – 31. That bill continued the various grant programs that have assisted in the prevention and prosecution of domestic and other violence against women since 1994. It also included provisions specifically recommended by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and the Senate Judiciary Committee to

  • Authorize tribal police to arrest and detain a person suspected of domestic violence, even if the person is not Native American,
  • Permit tribal courts to exercise full civil jurisdiction over domestic violence cases, so that they can issue and enforce protection orders and other controls, even if the person impacted by the order is not Native American,
  • Allow federal prosecutors to seek sentences similar to those that would be applied by nearby state laws, for certain kinds of serious assaults against Indian women in Indian country.

These specific provisions would help to create a greater sense of safety for Native women living on reservations, sometimes far from police support or legal help. In addition, the Senate bill included improvements that would enhance safety for immigrant women and prohibit discrimination against victims on the basis of sexual orientation.

The House approved its version – H.R. 4970 – on May 16. Among other differences, the House bill left out the jurisdictional clarifications for Indian country (as described above), as well as the protections for immigrant women and prohibitions against discrimination. There was substantial and rancorous debate on the House floor, much of it touching on the provisions that would protect Native women. But there was little in the debate that demonstrated an understanding – within either political party – of the particularly complex jurisdictional issues that get in the way of Native women seeking help to prevent domestic violence or to arrest a perpetrator.

For a description of these nearly insurmountable hurdles, see FCNL’s Winter 2010 Indian Report: “Part of the Problem.”

The White House issued a policy statement opposing the bill because of the omission and others.

The House vote was closer than the Senate vote; with a vote count of 222 - 205, the bill passed by a 51% margin. Of the 222 Yes votes, 216 were Republicans and 6 were Democrats. Of the 205 No votes, 182 were Democrats and 23 were Republicans. See a list of Democrats who voted "yes" and Republicans who voted "no."

To go forward, the bills will need to be considered in a conference committee to arrive at a single version that both houses can approve. Action: Write to your representative and senators. Urge their approval in conference committee of a version that addresses the jurisdictional quagmire in Indian Country. Refer them to the description of this quagmire in the Winter 2010 issue of FCNL’s Indian Report.

See more articles in the May 2012 NALU.

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