Published March 14, 2019
WASHINGTON — Today, the House Judiciary Committee held a markup of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019 (H.R. 1585) and reported it favorably out of Committee. This legislation increases safety for Native victims by building on the landmark provision included in the Violence Against Women Act 2013 (VAWA) that created a framework for tribal governments to prosecute non-Indians for the first time since Oliphant v. Suquamish.
Currently tribes can prosecute non-Indians only for domestic violence, dating violence, and criminal violations of protection orders. Section 903 of H.R. 1585 would add child abuse, sexual assault, stalking, trafficking, obstruction of justice, and assaults against law enforcement officers to the crimes that tribes can prosecute against non-Indians. The legislation would also expand tribal access to federal criminal databases and create a pilot project aimed at addressing the unique challenges in Alaska.
H.R. 1585 was approved on a party line vote, with Democrats voting in favor of the legislation and Republicans voting against it. Juana Majel-Dixon, Co-Chair for the Task Force on Violence Against Women and Recording Secretary at National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) responded to the favorable outcome of the Bill stating, “We applaud the Committee for approving this important legislation, which would enhance safety for victims in Indian Country.” She also thanked the Committee for rejecting an amendment that would have repealed the tribal jurisdiction provisions included in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, saying “I was disheartened, and frankly appalled, to see an amendment offered that would have stripped tribal governments of their inherent authority to hold non-Indians accountable for domestic violence crimes on tribal lands. With more than 4 in 5 Native women experiencing domestic violence in their lifetimes, now is not the time to go back to a system that allows non-Indians to prey on Native women with impunity. I am grateful that a majority of the Committee members agree.”
As NCAI noted in its written testimony to the Subcommittee on Crime, examination of the tribes’ exercise of jurisdiction over non-Indian domestic violence offenders suggests that it is working as Congress intended—the law has enhanced the ability of tribal governments to combat domestic violence against Native women, while at the same time protecting non-Indians’ rights in impartial, tribal forums. By exercising this jurisdiction, many tribal communities have increased safety and justice for victims who had previously seen little of either.
The Committee also considered an amendment offered by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee that directs the Attorney General and Secretary of the Interior to submit an annual report to Congress on missing and murdered Indian women and provides recommendations for how to improve data collection in this area. The amendment was approved with bipartisan support.
NCAI’s written testimony also informed the Subcommittee of the adoption of aresolution ECWS-19-005, which sets forth five priorities for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2019. The five priorities identified by NCAI are all largely addressed by H.R. 1585.