On April 4, the House of Representatives passed a Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill—H.R. 1585. The NCAI Task Force strongly supported H.R. 1585 because it contains amendments raised by Indian tribes for more than a decade at consultations, national conferences, and meetings. H.R. 1585 includes lifesaving amendments outlined below and the resources for tribal leaders and advocates to implement the legislation and make the changes needed. H.R. 1585 passed by bipartisan support, with a vote of 263 to 158. The “yes” votes included 33 Republicans. As of printing, the Senate has failed to introduce a bill to reauthorize VAWA.
Tribal provisions of H.R. 1585
- Restores tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians for specific crimes involving children and elders, sexual violence, stalking, sex trafficking, obstruction of justice, and assaults against law enforcement and corrections personnel (Section 903).
Improves the response to cases of missing and murdered Indian Women:
- Clarifies that federal criminal information database sharing extends to tribal law enforcement entities (that have no federal or state arrest authority) as designated by a tribe as maintaining public safety within a tribe’s territorial jurisdiction (Section 704).
- Amends the DOJ STOP Formula Grant Program for states (authorized by 34 U.S.C § 10441) to address the lack of victim resources for Native American women in urban areas by providing for the inclusion of victim advocates/resources in state courts for urban American Indians/Alaskan Natives where 71 percent of the Native American population resides due to federal relocation and termination policies (Section 101 Grants).
- Creates a $3 million authorization for DOJ’s Tribal Access Program (TAP) (Section 902).
- Directs the Government Accountability Organization (GAO) to submit a report on the response of law enforcement agencies to reports of missing or murdered Indians, including recommendations for legislative solutions (Section 905).
- Changes the definition of land eligible for a tribe’s jurisdiction to include all land within any Alaska Native village for the Alaska tribal jurisdiction pilot project (Section 903).
- Expands the definition of domestic violence in the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended by the bill, to include violence against or witnessed by a child under the age of 18, or an elder as defined by tribal law (Section 706 Definitions).
- Would alleviate the financial impact of expanding criminal jurisdiction by allowing the Attorney General to reimburse tribes for costs incurred to improve law enforcement, tribal court, personnel, and criminal codes (Section 903 Grants).
Update on VAWA 2019:
On April 4, 2019, the House passed H.R. 1585 to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). It has been six months since the House passed H.R. 1585 and the Senate has yet to take action to reauthorize this critical legislation. We are calling for the Senate to act NOW and vote on the House version of VAWA!
On June 19, 2019, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on the following bills:
- S. 227, Savanna’s Act, enhances the response to missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Natives by improving access to federal criminal databases; requiring data collection; and directing the Attorney General to review, revise, and develop law enforcement and justice guidelines.
- S. 288, the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act, provides Indian Tribes the jurisdiction to prosecute crimes of sexual violence committed by non-Indian offenders and helps to deter future crimes committed in Indian country.
- S. 290, the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act, expands the ability of Indian Tribes to enforce the Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction over crimes involving Native children and tribal law enforcement officers.
- S. 982, the Not Invisible Act of 2019, provides coordination and furthers prevention efforts between the Secretary of the Interior, outside organizations, and other Federal agencies; and creates a Joint Advisory Committee on Reducing Violent Crime Against Native People in the Department of the Interior and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
- S. 1853, Bridging Agency Data Gaps and Ensuring Safety (BADGES) for Native Communities Act, requires increased reporting of missing persons and unidentified cases by the DOJ, and the Department of the Interior law enforcement; codifies and provides funding for the DOJ Tribal Access Program pilot; and increases public safety and law enforcement coordination efforts and better handling of cases involving Native missing and murdered persons.
Although the tribal jurisdiction provisions within S. 288 and S. 290 are fully incorporated into H.R. 1585, the Committee’s June 19 hearing did not touch on any aspects of VAWA reauthorization, as there still is no draft VAWA Senate bill to be considered.
The Department of Justice has expressed its support for the further restoration of tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit crimes against tribal law enforcement and Native children. On June 28, 2019, the Department of Justice issued its comments and official position on H.R. 1585, stating that “the Department might support a more targeted expansion of tribal criminal jurisdiction tied to the current SDVCJ cases.” DOJ further stated:
“Since the statutorily mandated Pilot Project in 2014, and the full effective date of that provision in March 2015, approximately two dozen tribes have implemented SDVCJ. Although implementing tribes have reported successes, including more than 80 convictions, it may be too early to so broadly expand SDVCJ. The implementing tribes have expressed concerns, however, about their inability to charge defendants with crimes committed in the same course of conduct as an SDVCJ crime or against law enforcement and other tribal officials exercising the jurisdiction. For example, tribes cannot charge domestic violence offenders for related instances of child abuse or for assault on a responding officer. Similarly, tribes cannot charge a non-Indian domestic violence offender who attempts to obstruct justice by witness tampering in his case. The Department believes that a more limited fix could be crafted to address these problems and would welcome the opportunity to work with Congress to draft legislative language.”
Our understanding is that Senator Joni Ernst and Lindsey Graham’s staff are currently working with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s staff to draft a Senate VAWA bill, and that they are working to reach a compromise to introduce a Senate bill. There are concerns that Senator Ernst and Graham’s staff are pushing language that could destabilize and limit the way crimes are currently prosecuted in Indian Country. This is why voicing your support for a Senate bill that includes the tribal jurisdiction provisions in H.R. 1585 with no additional limitations or rollbacks is so important!
Call on your Senator to take action on VAWA and spread the word that these important enhancements are needed NOW to protect Native women and children!
A Call for Passage of a Senate Version of the House VAWA, H.R.1585
The NCAI Task Force strongly supports H.R. 1585 and is working to ensure the same provisions are included in a Senate VAWA Reauthorization bill. “We hope the Senate version of VAWA includes the tribal provisions of H.R. 1585,” said Michelle Demmert, NCAI Task Force Co-Chair. “Understanding H.R. 1585 and educating Senators to include these provisions is our challenge.”
In 2013, one challenge facing our movement was clarifying why some tribal amendments would prevent Indian tribes from protecting women and others would help. Many people do not understand federal Indian law, and it was an ongoing struggle to clarify the difference between the two versions of VAWA.
“VAWA 1995, and each reauthorization has made important reforms to increase the safety of Native women across the United States. The VAWA anniversary celebration is an important reminder of how far we have come in the last 25 years. It is also a reminder that we have a long way to go to restore safety for Native women. Today let us recommit to organizing across Indian tribes and the United States to reauthorize VAWA in 2019.”—Lucy Simpson, Executive Director, NIWRC