WASHINGTON – The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to mark up a Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization bill on May 8 that will likely strip out Native American protections from legislation that passed the U.S. Senate in late-April.
The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Florida. It eliminates Senate language that would provide major tribal court jurisdiction and protection order provisions for tribes in the lower 48 states meant to curb the violence epidemic that exists on many reservations. Alaska Native tribes were excluded from the Senate’s provisions.
Section 904 of the passed Senate bill recognizes tribal court jurisdiction over non-Indian domestic violence offenders. Section 905 allows for tribal protection orders involving “any person,” including non-Indian offenders. The bill also strengthens federal authority to address violent felonies on reservations.
The Obama administration and a bi-partisan majority of the Senate have agreed that the protections are necessary. U.S. Justice Department officials have said that provisions are constitutional, and would help curb high crime rates facing many reservations.
But an Adams spokeswoman told Congressional Quarterly that the congresswoman and other House Republicans consider the tribal provisions and others in the Senate bill to be unnecessary.
“The grants are available to all victims, and there is no evidence to conclude that victims are being turned away,” spokeswoman Lisa Boothe told CQ.
However, under the current VAWA law that lacks tribal protections, federal statistics indicate that Native women are battered, raped, and stalked at far greater rates than any other population of women in the United States. The data indicates that 34 percent of Native women will be raped in their lifetimes and 39 percent will be the victim of domestic violence.
Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., has also come out against tribal sections. During the Senate debate of its bill, she promised to co-sponsor a bill that does not contain them. While she has previously said she is a supporter of Native American issues and her district includes many Native constituents, she said after a press event on April 25 that she doesn’t support Indian inclusions in VAWA because she has concerns about consistency with federal criminal laws that govern tribes.
Already 36 House Republicans have signed on as cosponsors of the bill, known as H.R. 4970. This includes Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, as well as Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.
With that kind of support from the leadership, the House measure appears to be on a fast track, and a floor vote could take place as early as next week.
If the House passes a different version of the VAWA legislation than the Senate, then the chambers would have to negotiate to see if they could come to an agreement that they would send to President Barack Obama for signature.
The Senate version of VAWA, S. 1925, passed along bipartisan lines with a vote of 68-31 on April 26.
Some Republican senators, including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, put up a major fight against the tribal sections, saying they weakened federal sovereignty. In the end, Hutchison’s version of the bill that removed the tribal provisions was rejected by the full Senate.