CHN: VAWA Expected to Pass in Senate This Week; House Bill Still in the Works

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (S. 47), introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D – VT) and Mike Crapo (R – ID), is expected to pass in the Senate during the week of February 11, 2013 after consideration of a number of amendments. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was not reauthorized at the end of the 112th Congress because differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill could not be overcome. S. 47 makes improvements to VAWA and extends it for five more years. Members of both parties claim its reauthorization is a priority this year.
A continuing source of contention lies with tribal court provisions in the bill. S. 47 allows tribal courts to prosecute non-American Indians who are accused of acts of domestic violence against American Indian victims on tribal lands. The White House has gone on record in strong support of the tribal court provision, citing the fact that American Indian women experience some of the highest rates of domestic violence of any group in the nation. Even though some Republicans have questioned whether the constitutional rights of non-Indians might be tampered with in tribal courts, the Senate rejected Senator Charles Grassley’s (R – IA) alternative to S. 47 on February 7, which would have authorized $25 million for federal judges and prosecutors in tribal areas to handle domestic violence cases instead of authorizing the jurisdiction of tribal courts. This issue remains a sticking point between the House and Senate.

Among Senate amendments to be considered is a proposal to allocate funds to combat human trafficking, and others related to fighting sex trafficking of children, cases of rape and notifications of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases.

Another area of contention that held VAWA back from passage at the end of last year was a revenue provision included in the Senate legislation by Democrats hoping to make additional U visas available to abused immigrants. House Republicans refused to adopt the provision, saying that it was unconstitutional because all legislation involving revenue is required to originate in the House. This revenue measure was dropped from S. 47 in hopes of accelerating the passage of the legislation.

In years past, VAWA has received strong support in both the House and the Senate. The original legislation was passed in 1994 (PL 103-322), and was renewed with bipartisan support in 2000 and 2005.  The Senate passed a reauthorization bill last year by a vote of 68-31, which extended protections to gay, lesbian and immigrant victims in addition to the tribal provisions.  With the exception of the U visa increase noted above, the other expanded protections remain in S. 47.

A House Republican compromise written by Representatives Darrel Issa (R-CA) and Tom Cole (R-OK) calls for non-American Indian defendants to have the right to have their cases moved to federal courts if there is any cause to believe that their constitutional rights had been violated in a tribal court. The two legislators wrote a similar compromise at the end of last year and Issa has gone on record saying that he believes that their current language may soothe tensions between the parties and ease passage of the House bill when it comes to the floor.

Despite these disputes, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) made a statement on February 6 that the House will make reauthorizing VAWA a priority.

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