The U.S. House of Representative passed a bill to renew the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that includes a pilot program to expand the role of tribal law enforcement in five Alaska native villages.
The Seattle Times published an AP News report that said the bill would allow tribal authorities to prosecute crimes such as sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking as part of the Violence Against Women Act.
The bill, which was introduced in 2019 but was shut down over partisan issues, provides tribal authorities criminal jurisdiction over both members and nonmembers of the tribe within villages that are 75% Alaskan Native. The 2019 version of the bill was killed by Republicans in the Senate over objections to a measure that bans domestic violence offenders from purchasing guns.
Sen. Dan Sullivan says that reauthorizing the bill is important for the state of Alaska.
“My state, unfortunately, has the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault of any state in America. It is horrendous. The numbers. The victims. The carnage that this leaves.”
The VAWA offers a variety of programs and policies to protect native women. According to Alaska Public Media, the legislation supports victim services, bolsters law enforcement, and empowers tribal courts. Programs that exist today were initially created by the law passed in 1994, which is renewed every 5 years with possible amendments.
In the renewed version of the bill, house Democrats sought to close the “boyfriend loophole” by restricting gun purchases for convicted domestic abusers and stalkers. This has irked Republicans in the Senate, whose version of the bill sponsored by Senator Jodi Ernst was unanimously rejected by Democrats.
Ernst told reporters, “We thought that we were coming together on a bipartisan bill. Unfortunately, the Senate Democrats decided to turn their back and walk away.” She also added that she thinks Democrats are using VAWA to make her look bad.
Senate Democrats have also introduced a bill similar to the version the House passed.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski also said she wants to see the VAWA renewed with these changes.
“There is nothing, there is nothing partisan about making sure that Native women are protected…[the bill will] address the high rates of Native American women that are murdered or go missing,” she said.
Anchorage lawyer Lloyd Miller, an advocate for tribes to receive permanent jurisdiction, added that the bill would help with rural Alaska’s public safety crisis.
“Women are victims of domestic violence at even higher rates than the terribly high rates that were already present across rural Alaska, which are the highest rates in America,” Miller said.