Searching for a VAWA Floor Amendment to Save Native Protections

The Republican-led U.S. House Judiciary Committee did as it was expected to May 8 and voted to strip out Native American and other protections from VAWA reauthorization legislation that passed the U.S. Senate in late April.

WASHINGTON – The Republican-led U.S. House Judiciary Committee did as it was expected to May 8 and voted to strip out Native American and other protections from VAWA reauthorization legislation that passed the U.S. Senate in late April.

The final vote was 17 – 15 in favor of the bill sans tribal provisions, with only Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, crossing party lines to join the Democrats to vote against it. A substitute amendment from Ranking Member John Conyers, D-Mich. that would have protected tribal sections of the Senate bill was denied consideration by the committee’s majority. Other amendments meant to strengthen the legislation were also defeated.

Native leaders now say it is not too late to get a tribal-friendly VAWA addition, but time is running out.

“Despite the disappointing results of yesterday's committee markup, we still have a real chance at getting the key Title IX tribal amendments included in H.R. 4970 through a floor amendment,” says the National Congress of American Indian in a new action alert. “Please contact your U.S. Representatives right away and urge them to support a floor amendment to H.R. 4970 that would restore the critical protections for Native women contained in the bipartisan Senate bill."

NCAI is also asking tribal citizens to contact Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., to “thank him for standing up for the protection of Native women and tribal sovereignty in yesterday's House Judiciary Committee markup hearing.”

During the hearing, Issa made “a powerful statement in support of tribal sovereignty,” NCAI notes, “and offered an amendment that would have restored the critical tribal criminal jurisdictional provisions in Section 904 of the bipartisan Senate bill, but he was forced to withdraw his amendment when members of his own party threatened to rule it out of order because it was not ‘germane.’”

The final decision to pass a bill different from the Senate’s was widely decried by tribal supporters.

“Republicans should not be in the business of picking and choosing which women can be beaten and where it can take place. We should protect all women from violence,” said Dan Kildee, a Democratic candidate in Michigan’s 5th congressional race, in a statement. “It’s outrageous that they’ve turned something as bipartisan and effective in terms of reducing violence against women as the VAWA into a political weapon in order to satisfy extremists in their own party.”

The House bill was sponsored by Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Florida. 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.

The bill that passed the House committee 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.

In the days before the House’s action, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., had 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.

With several Republican leaders signed on to support the committee’s bill, the 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.