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Senate set for vote on VAWA with tribal jurisdiction provisions

The Senate is set for a final vote today or tomorrow on S.47, a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

The bill recognizes tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence offenses on reservations. Studies show that the majority of perpetrators are non-Indians.

Republicans have raised constitutional concerns about the provision. An alternative that would have tribes to go to federal court to enforce protection orders for American Indian and Alaska Native women was rejected last Thursday.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) is proposing an amendment to strip out the tribal provisions entirely. He doesn't think the bill will protect the rights of non-Indians and he believes it could lead to an expansion of tribal courts into other areas.

"I think we must also ask an important question: if we are to give tribes special jurisdiction over these types of crimes, why not other crimes? One grant of tribal jurisdiction over criminal law begets another, and soon we may find two separate criminal codes: one for tribal lands and victims, and one for all other crimes. This bill sets dangerous precedent, and we must recognize the problems that will ensue," Coburn said in a statement.

Republicans in the House also have raised concerns. Tribes have been attempting to work with lawmakers to resolve the issue but Jacqueline Pata, the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, expressed frustration.

“When you see these amendments that give more rights to perpetrators than Native women, you start to wonder where the balance is,” Pata told The New York Times. “We would give any other community in this country the resources and tools they need for justice, but we won’t give them to the Indians.”

Get the Story:
Measure to Protect Women Stuck on Tribal Land Issue (The New York Times 2/11)
Authority of Tribal Courts Key Issue with Violence Against Women Act (IVN 2/11)

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