WASHINGTON — Congress on Thursday gave Indian tribes new power to prosecute non-Indians in tribal courts for any crimes linked to domestic violence.
Ending a 16-month battle with the Senate, the House of Representatives voted 286-138 to approve the plan as part of an expansion of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. Republican opponents relented after failing to win enough votes to reauthorize the law without the provision.
The bill now goes to President Obama, who said he’d sign it.
Tribal officials lobbied hard for a new law in response to a 1978 Supreme Court ruling that tribes had no authority to try or punish non-Indians.
“This is a long-delayed and hard-won victory for millions of women in this country,” said Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, who made the issue a top priority after Congress allowed the law to expire in 2011.
The law, once signed, will allow tribes to try non-Indians only for rape and other crimes involving domestic abuse. While many opponents say the reauthorized law would be unconstitutional, backers say a narrow expansion probably would survive a court challenge.
Backers of the new law say it’s needed because too many local authorities don’t want to investigate crimes committed on reservations. And they say the situation has become severe: Indian women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average, and more than one in three will be raped in their lifetimes, according to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women. That rape rate is twice as high as it is for other ethnicities.
Read more in Friday’s Arizona Daily Star and at azstarnet.com