House Passes Watered-Down Domestic Violence Bill
By: Jared King | The Navajo Post | May 17
Washington, DC - In a 222-205 vote, the House today narrowly passed a bill reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and $660 million a year through fiscal year 2017 for domestic violence programs.
HR 4970 deviates significantly from S 1925, the bipartisan domestic violence bill approved in the Senate.
The House leadership declined to consider the Senate bill, choosing to debate HR 4970 under a ‘closed rule,’ meaning that no amendments were permitted.
This prevented efforts to make the bill look more like the Senate version. The White House yesterday threatened to veto the House bill, and urged Congress to pass a bill like S 1925.
The House bill omits provisions on tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who and further omits provisions on civil protection orders against non-Indians.
The bill also omits provisions protecting gay and lesbian victims of domestic violence and provisions providing stronger protections for immigrants.
Navajo President Ben Shelly said that he was “disappointed that the House leadership stripped provisions from VAWA recognizing the authority of tribal governments to protect all persons within their territory, and refused to even allow debate on those measures. The right to hold persons accountable for crimes committed within the Navajo Nation’s distinct political boundaries is essential for self-governance.”
The tribal provisions in the Senate bill were partially replaced with a provision allowing victims, or tribes on behalf of victims, to seek protection orders from U.S. District Courts.
President Shelly questioned the effectiveness of the proposal considering that federal prosecutors already decline significant numbers of domestic violence cases in Indian country, and it is unlikely that this would change when it came time to prosecute violations of federally issued protection orders.
“The provision would deprive victims of immediate assistance from the government and law enforcement resources closest to them, and would require victims to appeal to a court that may be hundreds of miles removed from them. The Navajo people deserve to be able to seek the assistance of the Navajo Nation, whose government existed before the United States,” President Shelly stated.
“This provision is potentially dangerous for tribal sovereignty. Federal courts could interpret the provision as meaning that Congress intended to erode the authority of tribal governments over their territory,” President Shelly said.
Tribal courts already have the authority under federal law to issue protection orders against non-Indians, and the authority to exclude any person from their lands.
There are still accusations that the tribal provisions unconstitutionally subject persons to the jurisdiction of a government from which they are excluded based on race, and that they run afoul of Supreme Court precedence.
Under federal law, ‘Indian’ is a political, not a racial, distinction; and tribes are distinct political entities. Further, the Supreme Court has held that Congress has the authority to expand the authority of tribal courts.
VAWA is now expected to go to Conference, where negotiators from both Houses of Congress will attempt to work out the differences between the two versions of the bill.