The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

February 28, 2013

Congress set to OK bill renewing anti-violence law


The legislation appeared headed for another impasse at the end of last week when the House introduced its version, which omitted references to sexual orientation and weakened Senate provisions giving Indian courts greater jurisdiction to try non-Indians accused of acts of domestic violence on tribal lands.

But on Tuesday House GOP leaders, apparently not wanting to add a war on women to the ongoing war over the budget, gave ground, agreeing that the House will vote on the Senate version if it first defeats the House proposal. With every Democrat and several dozen Republicans supporting the Senate bill, it is expected to prevail.

Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., said a letter he and 18 other House Republicans wrote to the GOP leadership, urging support of a bipartisan plan that would reach all victims of domestic violence, may have been the catalyst in ending the stalemate. A strong supporter of the law, Runyan said the most important thing was compromising and moving the legislation forward. "A lot of people around here have a hard time understanding that."

Another Republican backing the Senate approach was Tom Cole of Oklahoma, one of only three House members of Indian heritage and a strong proponent of giving Indian courts the right to prosecute non-Indian domestic violence suspects. He said that while the latest House bill, crafted by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., had made strides in addressing the Indian court issue, "it falls short of giving tribes what they need to keep their citizens protected from the scourge of domestic violence."

Indian women are victimized by domestic violence at rates more than double national averages, and federal prosecutors, lacking the resources to pursue cases on isolated reservations, prosecute only about half of the violent crimes. Opponents of the Senate bill say there are constitutional questions about Indian courts trying non-Indians.

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