Tribal Provisions Secure in Passing of Violence Against Women Act in Senate

February 12, 2013


The first hurdle is cleared for the tribal provisions to the Violence Against Women Act, as the Senate voted 78-22 today to reauthorize VAWA.

The new bill, S.47, was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and maintains the provisions that tribal courts would have jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit crimes of violence on Indian lands—an ability that currently isn’t an option—and was the main sticking point for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) held up a compromise in the 112th Congress last year as Indian Country Today Media Network reported on January 15.

With the passing on the Senate floor, the bill now awaits the outcome of the House vote. In 2012, the House approved a version of VAWA that varied the Senate version in many ways – one of them being the tribal provisions.

Following the Senate vote, President Barack Obama released the following statement, “Today the Senate passed a strong bipartisan bill to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act. This important step shows what we can do when we come together across party lines to take up a just cause. The bill passed by the Senate will help reduce homicides that occur from domestic violence, improve the criminal justice response to rape and sexual assault, address the high rates of dating violence experienced by young women, and provide justice to the most vulnerable among us.”

Leahy’s bill authorizes $659 million over fiver years for VAWA programs while expanding VAWA to new protections for LGBT as well as American Indian victims of domestic violence according to Huffington Post.

There were four amendments to the bill voted on today as well – a provision targeting human trafficking was passed 93 to 5; and a provision to ensure child victims of sex trafficking are eligible for grant assistance passed 100 to 0. Two amendments by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) were rejected, one to consolidate certain Department of Justice programs and the other to allow grants for sexually transmitted disease tests on sexual assault perpetrators according to Huffington Post.

“I am extremely pleased the Senate has passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which contains important new provisions to expand access to justice for all victims of violence and strengthen law enforcement and prosecutorial tools to hold accountable those who commit these crimes,” Attorney General Eric Holder said following the passing in an official statement. “Notably, the tribal provisions included in the VAWA reauthorization and originally proposed by the Department of Justice, will close a significant jurisdictional gap that has left too many Native American women, precisely because they are Native American, exposed to violence for far too long. The status quo is simply unacceptable and the Senate has today acted courageously on behalf of our society’s most vulnerable, who deserve not only equal justice but also our unquestionable resolve to protect them. As the House of Representatives now moves to consider reauthorizing this critical law, I urge lawmakers to come together, as they have historically, to pass an improved and strengthened VAWA that continues its 18 years of progress towards ending the scourge of violence against all victims in our society.”

VAWA’s momentum has continued to grow, and some House Republicans have stepped to the forefront in speaking out in support. On February 11, 17 Republicans sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Cantor urging an immediate reauthorization. “As you know, we are long overdue in passing a reauthorization of this landmark piece of legislation which seeks to reduce instances of domestic violence and protect women who are victims of such violence,” the letter states.

“I want to thank Senator Leahy and his colleagues from both sides of the aisle for the leadership they have shown on behalf of victims of abuse. It's now time for the House to follow suit and send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law,” Obama said.