February 28, 2013

In Obama victory, Congress renews Violence Against Women Act

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

The Senate passed its bill on a 78-22 vote with every Democrat, every woman senator and 23 of 45 Republicans supporting it.

A turning point in the debate came earlier this month, when 19 Republicans, led by Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., wrote a letter to their leadership urging them to accept a bipartisan plan that would reach all victims of domestic violence. The letter, Runyan said, was a catalyst in showing the leadership "a willingness of people in the House to really compromise" and see that the Senate "has a pretty good bill."

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a Native American, also wrote his Republican colleagues saying he was voting against the House alternative because "it falls short of giving tribes what they need to keep their women safe."

Indian women suffer incidents of domestic violence at rates more than double national averages, but Indian courts don't have jurisdiction over non-Indians, and federal prosecutors don't take up about half the violence cases on reservations because of lack of resources to pursue crimes on isolated Indian lands. The Senate bill would give Indian courts the ability to prosecute non-Indians for a set of crimes limited to domestic violence and violations of protecting orders. Opponents have said that raises constitutional issues.

"With this authority comes a serious responsibility, and tribal courts will administer justice with the same level of impartiality that any defendant is afforded in state and federal courts," said Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians.

The Violence Against Women Act is credited with helping reduce domestic violence incidents by two-thirds over the past two decades. The Senate bill would authorize some $659 million a year over five years to fund current programs that provide grants for transitional housing, legal assistance, law enforcement training and hotlines.

The Senate bill adds stalking to the list of crimes that make immigrants eligible for protection and authorizes programs dealing with sexual assault on college campuses and with efforts to reduce the backlog in rape kit analyses. It reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

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