Legislation Impacting the Safety of Native Women

Elizabeth Carr (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians), Senior Native Affairs Advisor, NIWRC

Legal reforms and increased resources can remove barriers to safety and justice

Fiscal Year 2021 Continuing Resolution

In an effort to avoid a government shutdown in the midst of a pandemic and during election season, the House and Senate passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) for FY 2021 that will be in effect until December 11, 2020. NIWRC continues to closely track movement on appropriations and all other pending legislation.

Coronavirus (COVID -19) Pandemic Funding

Negotiations on future pandemic related relief funding have stalled and there is currently no indication when they may pick back up. NIWRC will continue to advocate on behalf of Tribes and Tribal programs to ensure that the needs of victims and survivors are considered and included in any COVID-19 related packages moving forward.

Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act

On May 18, 2020 the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act passed the House of Representatives. While this package is not expected to pass the Senate, as written it would include important funding resources to programs serving victims and survivors including:

Office of Victims of Crime:

Deposit issue addressed and match waiver included for duration of the pandemic.

Office on Violence Against Women:

  • Sexual Assault Services Program: $15 million.
  • Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors (STOP) Formula Grants: $30 million.
  • Transitional Housing Assistance Grants: $15 million.
  • Rural Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking Assistance Program: $10 million.
  • Legal Assistance for Victims Grant Program: $10 million.
  • Grants to Support Families in the Justice System Program: $16 million.
  • Grants to Tribal Governments: $4 million to assist Tribes in exercising special criminal domestic violence jurisdiction.

Department of Health and Human Services Programs:

  • Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) program: $50 million including 10% for tribal grantees.

Additional tribal specific provisions include:

  • $20 billion for a Tribal Fiscal Relief Fund that clarifies the funds are to be dispersed to tribal governments;
  • $900 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to meet Tribal government needs necessary to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19; and
  • $2.1 billion to the Indian Health Service to address health care needs related to COVID-19 for American Indian/ Alaska Natives.

Pending Legislation Addressing Violence Against Women

While currently paused, NIWRC will continue to advocate for and track the movement of several bills as they relate to addressing violence against Native women. Please see below for the latest update on several bills that will likely resume negotiation and movement once COVID-19 related legislation slows.

Violence Against Women Act

Last reauthorized in 2013, the authorization for VAWA expired in 2018. On April 4, 2019, the House of Representatives passed a VAWA Reauthorization bill (H.R. 1585). This bipartisan bill was developed in partnership with the national and tribal advocacy organizations. H.R. 1585 includes critical resources for tribes to implement VAWA and necessary lifesaving amendments to enhance tribal sovereignty and safety for Native women. H.R. 1585 is widely supported across Indian Country.

Bipartisan negotiations in the Senate unfortunately broke down and has resulted in two Senate Bills to reauthorize VAWA. On November 13, 2019, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a companion Senate Bill S.2843 to H.R. 1585 to reauthorize VAWA. This bill closely mirrors the language contained in the bipartisan, advocate supported H.R. 1585 and is inclusive of the important tribal provisions that tribal leaders and advocates strongly support.

On November 20, 2019, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced S.2920 to reauthorize VAWA. This legislation, while inclusive of Indian tribes if enacted, would destabilize tribal justice systems by imposing burdens and restrictions on tribal courts far beyond those imposed on federal and state courts, including audits by the Attorney General and leaves Tribes vulnerable to lawsuits by defendants of tribal courts through the stripping of sovereign immunity. Ultimately, this bill would eliminate the gains made in VAWA 2013 and infringes on the inherent tribal authority of tribal nations to prosecute crimes committed against their citizens on tribal lands.

Family Violence Prevention and Service Act

The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) authorization expired in 2015. The FVPSA provides critical support for shelters, coalitions, training and technical assistance centers, children’s services, emergency response hotlines, and prevention initiatives. The FVPSA is the only federal grant program solely dedicated to domestic violence shelter and supportive services. It is the primary source of funding for these services for Indian tribes.

This past year, a coalition of national advocacy organizations worked closely with congressional staffers in both the House and Senate to draft of an enhanced reauthorization of the FVPSA reflecting the diverse needs of domestic violence victims and priorities of Indian tribes and the domestic violence field. In July 2019, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Lisa Murkowski (RAK) introduced S. 2259. In November, House Representatives Lucy McBath (D-GA), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Tom Cole (ROK), and John Katko (R-NY) introduced a companion bill H.R. 5041. These bills, S. 2259 and H.R. 5041, expand grant programs and make many needed improvements so that more survivors have access to support and safety including:

  • Increasing the overall funding authorization level to address very low per-program funding levels and provide access to FVPSA funds for more tribes and programs not currently funded. 
  • Strengthening the capacity of Indian Tribes to exercise their sovereign authority to more fully respond to domestic violence in their communities by increasing the current 10% tribal allocation to 12.5% off the top of appropriations.
  • Authorizing recognition and meaningful funding for tribal coalitions to provide Indian tribes and tribal organizations with technical assistance and training on developing responses to domestic violence.
  • Authorizing recognition and permanent funding for the currently funded Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center.
  • Authorizing recognition and permanent funding for the currently funded StrongHearts Native Helpline to serve as the national Indian domestic violence hotline.

On December 12, 2019, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed S.2971 a package of legislation inclusive of a bill to reauthorize FVPSA. Unfortunately, S.2971 falls short on the tribal enhancements included in S.2259 and H.R. 5041.

NIWRC and the coalition looks forward to continued conversations when Congress returns to regular business to ensure that the FVPSA bill moving forward is inclusive of more robust enhancements for Tribes and tribal programs.

Bridging Agency Data Gaps and Ensuring Safety Act

Introduced in both the Senate (S.1853) and the House (H.R. 4289), the Bridging Agency Data Gaps and Ensuring Safety Act (BADGES) aims to improve law enforcement recruitment, Tribal access to federal criminal databases, and coordination between federal, state, Tribal, and local law enforcement agencies by:

  • Addressing inefficiencies in federal criminal databases; 
  • Increasing Tribal access to federal criminal databases; and
  • Improving public data on missing and murdered Indigenous women cases and Indian Country law enforcement staffing levels;
  • Promoting more efficient recruitment and retention of BIA law enforcement;
  • Providing Tribes with resources to improve public safety coordination between their governments, states, and federal agencies; and
  • Mitigating against federal law enforcement personnel mishandling evidence crucial to securing conviction of violent offenders.

Finding and Investigating Native Disappearance Act

Introduced in the Senate, the Finding and Investigation Native Disappearance Act (FIND Act) (S.1893) aims to require the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study on ways to increase reporting of missing Indians and the effects of the use of methamphetamine and other illegal drugs on violent crime in Tribal communities, and for other purposes.

Tribal Reporting and Accountability to Congress Act

Introduced in the Senate, the Tribal Reporting and Accountability to Congress Act (TRAC Act) (S.1892) aims to amend the Indian Law Enforcement Reform Act to require each tribal liaison within the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to submit to Congress an annual report on missing and murdered Indians.

Native Youth & Tribal Officer Protection Act

Introduced in both the Senate (S.290) and the House (H.R. 958), the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act (NYTOPA) aims to reaffirm tribal criminal jurisdiction over some crimes committed by non-Indians including: child abuse and crimes that are committed against certain public safety & justice officials.

Justice for Native Survivors Act

Introduced in the Senate (S.288) aims to reaffirm tribal criminal jurisdiction over some crimes committed by non-Indians including sexual assault, stalking, and trafficking.


Introduced and passed out of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the bipartisan SURVIVE Act (S.211) would direct that five percent of the total annual outlays from the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) be provided to Indian tribes to provide crime victim services. Since Fiscal Year 2018, Congress has appropriated 5% of the CVF for a tribal set aside, S.211 would make the appropriation permanent.

Alaska Tribal Public Safety Empowerment Act

Introduced in the Senate, the Alaska Tribal Public Safety Empowerment Act (S.2616) aims to expand the jurisdiction provided in the Violence Against Women Act of 2013 (VAWA) to apply to Alaska Native villages on a pilot basis. This bill would also expand covered crimes to include crimes of sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking, and assault of law enforcement or corrections officers.

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