The Senate began action last week on its renewed effort to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, a panoply of initiatives designed to combat such crimes as domestic violence and sexual assault and to provide assistance to state and local law enforcement. Both chambers of Congress passed reauthorization bills last year, but were never able to resolve various differences.
One major hurdle, the creation of new visas for immigrant victims of domestic violence, has been stripped from this yearís version of the Senate bill. The other large sticking point, however, remains - Senate language that would give Indian tribes expanded police and judicial jurisdiction over non-Indian sex offenders who commit crimes on tribal land. Senate proponents contend the provision is a practical response to the reality that the nearest law enforcement authorities are often located hours away from tribal lands, making it very difficult to adequately police non-Indian offenders. Opponents are wary of potential constitutional issues raised by the provision.
Regardless, the bill looks to be sailing toward passage in the Senate. The motion to proceed was agreed to by an overwhelming 85-8 margin (Roll Call Number 12) last Monday, February 4. Several days later, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, offered a substitute bill supported by his conference. The Grassley substitute made several changes, including to the Indian language. Its margin of defeat - 34 to 65, with ten Republicans joining all Democrats and independents - indicates the strength of the billís support. The president has not taken a position on the current bill, though he supported last yearís Senate bill. The House has not yet taken action to move a reauthorization.