Senate Passes VAWA reauthorization: Debate Moves to House

Senate Passes VAWA reauthorization: Debate Moves to House

On April 25, 2012, the U.S. Senate passed S. 1925, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization, by a vote of 68 – 31. The Hutchison – Grassley substitute amendment that would have stripped the tribal jurisdictional provisions failed by a vote of 36 – 63. Among many positive provisions for tribal governments, the bill includes a provision to restore tribal court criminal authority over reservation-based acts of domestic violence committed by non-Indians. If the legislation reaches the President’s desk, this would be a historic restoration of tribal sovereignty that was wrongly taken in the Supreme Court’s 1978 Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe decision. The gap in jurisdiction has been the root cause of the epidemic of violence against Native women. S. 1925 will restore tribal authority and provide many tribal governments with local control to combat all crimes of domestic and dating violence on Indian lands.

There will be a big battle ahead in the House of Representatives. The SAVE Native Women Act, which mirrors the senate bill’s tribal provisions, has bipartisan support in that chamber, but Indian country must reach out to each and every member of the House to build a strong coalition of support to retain the tribal provisions.

House Passes Another Extension of Transportation Programs Through September 30th

House Passes Another Extension of Transportation Programs Through September 30th

On Wednesday, April 18th, the House of Representatives passed HR 4348, a bill to extend the authorization of transportation programs until September 30th, by a vote of 293-127. Although Congress just passed an extension of transportation programs through June 30th, House Republican leadership decided to move forward with another extension in order to proceed to a Conference Committee with the Senate on it’s long-term authorization of transportation programs, MAP-21 (S.1813) as well as to continue to put pressure on the Administration with respect to the Keystone Pipeline. The House has struggled to pass a long-term reauthorization of transportation programs of its own and so, with this legislation (HR 4348), the House Republican leadership sidesteps these issues and proceeds directly to a Conference Committee. It is hoped that the Conference Committee will be able to develop a long-term reauthorization that both the House and Senate could support.

In addition to the extension and the Keystone Pipeline provision, three amendments to HR 4348 were approved on the floor: (1) ensuring that no less than the amount of funds be spent on ports as is generated by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund; (2) easing EPA regulations on coal-fired power plants; and (3) speeding up environmental approval of highway projects.

In general, Democrats in the House were not supportive of this bill, however 69 Democrats did vote for the bill, including the Ranking Member of the Transportation Committee, Nick Rahall. This support for the bill despite the Keystone provision was due to the anticipated call for a Conference Committee, which Democrats hope would result in a long-term reauthorization of transportation programs.

The Conference Committee will have until September 30th to negotiate and develop a long-term reauthorization bill that could be voted on by both the Senate and House. Considering the wide differences that reportedly remain between the House and Senate, it seems likely that a lengthy Conference Committee will in fact be needed. Further, given the difficulties of finding an agreement between the House and Senate, it would not be surprising if another extension of programs until after the November Congressional and Presidential election is passed. As senior Republican, Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-OH) said, “I don’t see how you get a bill before the election, but stranger things have happened.” However, this is not likely to occur until September at the earliest.