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Republicans hold up action on Alaska tribal jurisdiction measure

President Barack Obama signs S.47, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, at the Sidney R. Yates Auditorium at the U.S. Department of Interior in Washington, D.C., March 7, 2013. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

Republicans in the Senate are holding up a bill that would help Alaska tribes combat high rates of violence against Native women.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are sponsoring S.1474, the Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act. The bill repeals Section 910 of the S.47, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, in order to allow Alaska tribes to exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence offenses.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved the bill at a business meeting nearly six months ago so it's ready for action on the Senate floor. But Begich and Murkowski confirmed that Republicans aren't eager to embrace it.

"There has been resistance on the Republican side--that is correct," Murkowski said today after Begich brought up the issue at at committee hearing this afternoon.

In hopes of addressing those concerns, Begich and Murkowski created a "streamlined" version of the bill to remove provisions that were controversial among Republicans. They are hoping to get it passed before the end of the 113th Congress.

"When we passed VAWA, Alaska Native people were left out," Begich said. "All we want to do is fix it."

Murkowski will remain in a position of power when Republicans take control of the Senate next year. Opposition from her own party will likely continue if the bill doesn't get passed now.

Republican Dan Sullivan will be joining Murkowski in the next session. When he was attorney general of the state, he repeatedly fought against tribal jurisdiction and, during his campaign, he refused to say whether he would have voted for the VAWA reauthorization.

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