What's Next for the Violence Against Women Act

The Atlantic Wire

The Senate finally passed the latest draft of the Violence Against Women Act on Tuesday. Now the bill will be sent back to Congress, where it seems to have an uncertain future.

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While all the nays came from men, the Senate's vote was bipartisan, with a 78-22 margin. The reauthorization of the act, which expired a year and a half ago, now includes provisions so that gay women, Native American women, and immigrants receive federeal protection from domestic abuse. After both the Senate and the House failed to act on renewing the bill last year, both chambers passed their own versions of the bill — then couldn't come to any sort of compromise. 

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One of the last things holding up the bill in the Senate was a provision over tribal land jurisdiction in domestic abuse cases

Domestic abuse is particularly prevalent on reservations, and the abuse comes by-and-large from non-tribal partners. American Indian women are more than twice as likely to be raped as white women, and many are left in limbo between tribal authorities who are powerless to act against non-tribal aggressors and local officials who are unable to exert much control on tribal lands. The new Senate bill recognizes tribal authority to prosecute non-American Indians who abuse their partners.

Two Republicans in the Senate tried to argue that trying non-Native Americans in tribal courts was unconstitutional, but their cries were defeated. 

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The bill will now get kicked back to Congress, where Eric Cantor and Joe Biden will work as quickly as possible together to get a deal done. Biden was an original author of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. A group of House Republicans wrote the two politicians on Monday urging swift action. The Violence Against Women Act "programs save lives, and we must allow states and communities to build upon the successes of current VAWA programs so that we can help even more people," the letter read. 

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But comments from Cantor last week signal the House might ignore the Senate's latest offer and forge ahead with another competing version of the same act — just like last year. Cantor signaled that he has concerns with the provisions protecting tribal women. "There’s been the introduction of some issues that are not directly related to the situation of domestic abuse on tribal lands," he said. "That’s what we’re trying to get at. We want to protect the women who are subject to abuse on tribal lands. And unfortunately, there are issues that don’t directly bear on that that have come up that have complicated it."

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But Cantor is also facing pressure from his own party to fold on his concerns over the tribal court provisions. Republican Representatives Tom Cole and Darrell Issa have lobbied Cantor's staff to let the tribal court provisions stay in the bill. Their compromise to appease him includes "offering non-Indian defendants a chance to appeal to federal law enforcement after arrest and after a conviction" in a tribal court. How successful they will be remains to be seen, but hopefully we'll know soon. A year and a half is a long time for this thing to have been expired. 

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