Webcast: Rules Committee Hearing H.R. 1585, H. Res. 271, S.J.Res. 7

House moves closer to passage of Violence Against Women Act

A key committee is meeting on Monday afternoon to prepare H.R.1585, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, for passage on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The 2013 version of VAWA recognizes, for the first time, the "inherent" sovereignty of Indian nations to protect their most vulnerable. But tribes and their advocates say the landmark law doesn't go far enough to address high rates of victimization of Native women.

"There's a small exception for certain tribes to prosecute non-Indians who commit acts of domestic violence on the reservation but we still lack authority over sexual violence, child sexual abuse and even homicide," Sarah Deer, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation said at the Safety for Our Sisters symposium in Washington, D.C., on March 21.

H.R.1585 starts to change the situation. Language in Title IX of the bill recognizes tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians who engage in dating violence, sex trafficking and who commit crimes against tribal law enforcement. There are also provisions to address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.

An empty red dress is seen at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington as part of "The REDress Project," an installation by Métis artist Jaime Black that raises awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

In hopes of strengthening the bill even further, lawmakers from both parties have submitted several pro-tribal amendments to the House Committee on Rules for possible inclusion in H.R.1585. And, notably, no one appears to be trying to remove the tribal jurisdiction provisions from the 2013 law altogether, something Republicans on a different legislative panel tried to do last month.

"We certainly ought to be able to reauthorize VAWA in ways that, frankly, continue to strengthen the tribal component," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation who is the highest-ranking Republican on the Rules Committee, told the National Congress of American Indians during the organization's winter session in Washington last month.

The committee is meeting at 5pm on Monday to consider the bill in a session that will be webcast. A list of the proposed amendments affecting Indian Country follows:

Submitted by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska): Changes the definition of land eligible for a tribe’s jurisdiction to include all land within any Alaska Native village, for the Alaska tribal jurisdiction pilot project.

Submitted by Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico): Provides for the inclusion of victim advocates/resources in state courts for urban American Indians/Alaskan Natives (AI/ANs) where 71 percent of the Native American population resides due to federal relocation and termination policies. This will be offered as an amendment to the DOJ STOP Formula Grant Program for states (authorized by 34 U.S.C § 10441) to address the lack of victim resources for Native American women in urban areas (who experience disproportional rates of sexual/domestic violence) since this group falls outside of the eligibility for the DOJ Victim of Crimes Act Tribal Set-Aside funding, which is only available for tribal programs within reservation boundaries.

Submitted by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona): Expands the definition of domestic violence in the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended by the bill, to include violence against or witnessed by a child under the age of 18, or an elder (as defined by tribal law).

Submitted by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona): Alleviates the costs tribes incur due to the expansion of criminal jurisdiction. Further this amendment provides language allowing the Attorney General to award grants to tribes to improve law enforcement, tribal court personnel and criminal codes.

Submitted by Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico): Clarifies that federal criminal information database sharing extends to entities designated by a tribe as maintaining public safety within a tribe’s territorial jurisdiction that have no federal or state arrest authority.

Submitted by Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Maryland): Creates a grant program for States, local governments, Indian tribes, and domestic violence victim service providers and coalitions for technical assistance and training in the operation or establishment of a lethality assessment program (LAP).

In addition to H.R.1585, the committee is also taking up H.Res.271, a resolution that condemns the Trump administration for refusing to defend the Affordable Care Act in court. The 2010 law includes a permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act so a loss of the law will affect a number of key programs at the Indian Health Service.

House Committee on Rules Notice
Hearing H.R. 1585, H. Res. 271, S.J.Res. 7 (April 1, 2019)

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