Republicans offer deal on Native American courts

Renewal and expansion of the Violence Against Women Act has been mired in the question of tribal authority over domestic violence cases.

WASHINGTON — Several House Republicans on Wednesday proposed legislation on Native American courts that could lay the groundwork for a compromise on the stalled Violence Against Women Act.

The legislation gives tribal courts the authority to prosecute non-Native Americans accused of abusing partners on tribal lands.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Darrell Issa of California, Tom Cole of Oklahoma, and six other Republicans, would also allow defendants to request that their case be moved to a federal court if they felt their constitutional rights were being violated.

The House and Senate have been trying for the past year to renew and expand the 1994 act credited with reducing domestic violence in the country, but tribal authority over domestic violence cases has been a major point of contention.

The Senate last week passed a Violence Against Women Act bill that gives tribal courts more authority to try non-Native Americans, overcoming objections that non-Native Americans should not be subject to tribal law by pointing to figures showing Native American women are 2 1/2 times more susceptible to violence than others in the country. But this provision has met continued resistance in the House.

Related: Senate approves anti-violence against women act

Half the domestic violence cases occurring on Native American lands go unprosecuted, often because federal authorities lack the resources to pursue cases on isolated reservations.

"The current law enforcement system for Native American women is broken," Issa said. "Too many victims of domestic violence cannot get access to law enforcement during times of emergency and more will continue to suffer unless Congress acts."

The Violence Against Women Act, which provides federal grants for legal assistance, transitional housing, law enforcement training and domestic violence hotlines, expired in 2011. Both the House and Senate passed renewal bills last year, but were unable to resolve differences over the tribal courts, and to a lesser extent, to Senate language saying that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people should have equal access to the act's programs.

Issa and Cole put forth their compromise last year, but the session ended before it could be considered. Cole is one of only three House members of Native American heritage.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has said he will bring up a House Violence Against Women Act bill soon, and one possibility is that the Issa-Cole provision on Indian courts would be incorporated in the House bill.


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