Senate Passes VAWA Reauthorization: Bill Moves to House >>

February 12th, 2013

Senate Passes VAWA Reauthorization: Bill Moves to House

Today, the U.S. Senate passed S. 47, the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization (VAWA) of 2013, with the tribal jurisdiction provisions full intact. The bill passed by a wide bipartisan vote of 78 – 22, including all 53 Democrats, 2 Independents, and 23 out of 45 Republican senators voting in favor of the measure.

A number of senators spent time during the 3 – day debate to speak on the senate floor to support the tribal provisions, including Senators Cantwell (D-WA), Murray (D-WA), Leahy (D-VT), Begich (D-AK), Tom Udall (D-NM), Murkowski (R-AK), Franken (D-MN), Blumenthal (D-CT), and others.

Their efforts helped fight back two amendments that would have deleted the tribal jurisdiction provisions, including a broad VAWA substitute amendment offered by Senator Grassley (R-IA) and one by Senator Coburn (R-OK). The Grassley amendment was defeated by a tally of 35 – 65, and the Coburn amendment fell by a 31 – 59 vote.

Senators Grassley, Cornyn (R-TX), and Coburn all went to the floor to oppose the tribal provisions. All of them attacked the legality of the tribal provisions. Senator Cornyn called the tribal provisions “blatantly unconstitutional”, and noted that the tribal provisions risk final passage of VAWA “in order to satisfy the unconstitutional demands of special interests.” Cornyn went on to discuss his proposed compromise that would permit the prosecution of non-Indian offenders in tribal court. However, his proposal would require the imposition of the U.S. Constitution on tribal governments. It would also authorize non-Indians convicted in tribal court a direct right of appeal to the federal court of appeals.

Senator Coburn, in an attempt to garner support for his amendment, stated the following, “What we’ve done with this [legislation] is to trample on the bill of rights of every American who is not Native American. I am 100% certain that this will be thrown out by the first federal judge that hears it. … What this bill does is eliminate the bill of rights for U.S. citizens in tribal courts…. Most tribal courts don’t recognize the bill of rights.”

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairwoman, Senator Maria Cantwell, rebutted the constitutionality claims by noting that the bill provides the full range of protections for suspects of abuse. She added, “If you think you are rooting out crime in America, while letting a sieve happen in Indian Country, you are not rooting out crime. You are sending a signal to people that this is an easy place to go…. You are saying this is the place where you can escape the law. We are trying to close that gap. [T]his is not something that has been done with sleight of hand. This is something where a great deal of thought has gone into it by the Department of Justice…. Clearly, we … need to do something very important to make sure all women, including Native American women, no longer suffer from these statistics that are just unbearable in the United States of America.”

Senator Murkowski also made a strong defense regarding the need for the tribal provisions. She listed the staggering statistics of violence and sexual assault that Native women nationwide endure on a daily basis. Speaking to a New York Times Reporter, Senator Murkowski stated “I have heard too many of the horror stories, and I have heard the law enforcement folks come forward and say, we’ve got to do something because right now it’s so confused that if a sheriff’s office gets a 911 call, and they find out the woman is calling from a reservation, and they find out it’s her boyfriend and he’s not a member of the tribe, we’ve heard stories that they don’t even respond…. Basically you can get away with bloody murder.” [ Link to article attached below ]

After senate passage, U.S. Attorney General, Robert Holder released the following statement: “[T]he tribal provisions included in the VAWA reauthorization and originally proposed by the Department of Justice, will close a significant jurisdictional gap that has left too many Native American women, precisely because they are Native American, exposed to violence for far too long. The status quo is simply unacceptable and the Senate has today acted courageously on behalf of our society’s most vulnerable, who deserve not only equal justice but also our unquestionable resolve to protect them. As the House of Representatives now moves to consider reauthorizing this critical law, I urge lawmakers to come together, as they have historically, to pass an improved and strengthened VAWA that continues its 18 years of progress towards ending the scourge of violence against all victims in our society.”

The bill and the debate on VAWA Reauthorization moves to the U.S. House of Representatives, where it will be referred to the House Judiciary and Natural Resources Committees. In 2012, House Republican Leadership pushed back against the tribal jurisdiction provisions as well as several other proposals in the Senate bill. However, there is mounting public pressure to quickly pass the VAWA Reauthorization. The wide bipartisan margin of vote in the Senate will only serve to increase that pressure. Yesterday, a group of 23 Republican Members of Congress wrote Speaker Boehner and Leader Cantor, urging them to pass a bipartisan VAWA bill that expands protections for all women, which indicates internal caucus pressure.

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