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Violence bill grants tribal courts power

Violence Against Women Act now awaits Obama’s signature

Kip Hill Correspondent

WASHINGTON – The Violence Against Women Act now on its way to President Barack Obama’s desk after a yearlong delay has deep ties and connections to the Inland Northwest and its U.S. congressional delegation.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is a co-sponsor of the bill that will arrive for Obama’s signature. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., led the charge on the House GOP alternative that was shot down Thursday.

One of the main reasons for the House GOP bill’s failure was its lack of a mechanism for tribal courts to prosecute non-native persons accused of abuse. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., argued for the Senate’s provision granting tribal courts authority over abuse cases as chairwoman of the Indian Affairs Committee. Throughout the process, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has maintained staunch support of the Senate version and publicly called out House GOP leadership for failing to bring it to a floor vote.

That changed Thursday, when the House shipped the Senate version to the White House. Before that happened, McMorris Rodgers took to the House floor Thursday morning in an effort to combat Democratic attacks on the Republican version of the bill, saying the focus had been on partisanship in debate on the legislation rather than the victims who would be protected by her version of the bill. She also cautioned the law would not stand up to judicial scrutiny.

“It is a bill that respects the Constitution and puts the focus on the victim, where it should be,” McMorris Rodgers said of the Republican alternative, which was defeated on a 166-257 vote.

But Murray called the constitutional argument “an artificial red flag,” saying Democrats had consulted with constitutional lawyers who gave the OK on their bill. She said the Senate’s legislation, passed by the House with more than 80 Republican backers, brought to light the often-overlooked issue of violence on tribal lands.

“This has been a silent epidemic, and we’ve brought it out in the open and made a really big step forward,” Murray said.

McMorris Rodgers voted for the Senate version of the act after her version was defeated.

Another feature missing from the House Republican version of the bill was explicit granting of benefits to same-sex couples. Murray said such an extension was vital, given the decision by Washington and several other states to legalize marriage for partners of the same sex.

“I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many members of the LGBT community,” Murray said. “Because the language did not explicitly provide them benefits, they were denied.”

Congress originally codified the Violence Against Women Act, authored by then-Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, in 1994. It has now been renewed three times, and legislation passed Thursday extends benefits, including funding for programs dedicated to stopping domestic violence and legal assistance for victims, through 2018.

Obama has signaled he will sign the bill.

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