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President Obama to sign VAWA with tribal jurisdiction provision

President Barack Obama praised the 113th Congress for finalizing S.47, a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, on Thursday.

The bill includes a landmark section to recognize tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence offenses on reservations. Obama long supported the provision which first surfaced in a Department of Justice proposal in July 2011.

"Today’s vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community," Obama said in a statement.

"Eighteen years ago, I envisioned a world where women could live free from violence and abuse. Since VAWA first passed in 1994, we have seen a 64% reduction in domestic violence," added Vice President Joe Biden, one of the original co-sponsors of VAWA, in a statement.

The Senate easily passed S.47 on February 12 by a vote of 78-22. The only no votes came from Republicans.

Republicans in the House insisted on bringing up their own version of the bill that recognized tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians. But it included significantly different provisions aimed at giving non-Indian defendants the ability to take their cases to federal court at any point in the process.

"Sovereignty is not a bargaining chip," observed Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-New Mexico) on the House floor yesterday.

By a vote of 166-257, the House ended up rejecting the GOP version. That cleared the way for the more favorable version of S.47, which passed by a vote of 286-138.

“Congress has also taken an historic step to finally close the loophole that left many Native American women without adequate protection. With this bill, tribes and the federal government can better work together to address domestic violence against Native American women, who experience the highest rates of assault in the United States," Attorney General Eric Holder sad in a press release.

Officials at the Interior Department also praised the bill. "This historic legislation, which recognizes and affirms inherent tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians in domestic violence cases, will provide much needed tools to tribal justice systems to effectively protect Indian women from abuse," Secretary Salazar said in a press release.

“American Indian women experience among the highest domestic violence victimization rates in the country and more than half of all married Indian women have non-Indian husbands,” added Assistant Secretary Bureau of Indian Affairs. “This legislation provides tools to tribal governments to address the problem of domestic violence much more completely on Indian reservations.”

Get the Story:
Tribes regain ability to prosecute criminals for some crimes on their reservations (The Seattle Times 3/1)
Violence Against Women Act passed by House, sent to Obama for signature (The Washington Post 3/1)
House Renews Violence Against Women Measure (The New York Times 3/1)
Violence Against Women reauthorization adds protections for tribal women (Cronkite News 2/28)
Tribes win new power to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence (McClatchy Newspapers 2/28)
A Proud Day for Tribal Advocates of the Violence Against Women Act (Indian Country Today 2/28)
Congress passes, sends to president, bill renewing Violence Against Women Act (AP 2/28)

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