GM 14-097

House and Senate Pass Repeal of Alaska Exception To Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization of 2013

This week, the House and Senate approved legislation, S 1474, to amend the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization of 2013 (VAWA) to repeal the provision that specifically excluded tribes in the State of Alaska from the expanded tribal jurisdiction provisions passed as part of the VAWA reauthorization. S 1474 has been sent to the President for his signature and is expected to be signed into law.

S 1474, introduced by Senator Begich (D-AK) as the Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act, originally included several more expansive provisions to strengthen tribal jurisdiction over child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and drug- and alcohol-related offenses in the State of Alaska. However, the version of S 1474 considered and passed by the full Senate on December 9, 2014, replaced the more expansive provisions passed by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs with a simple repeal of Section 910 of the VAWA. Section 910 of the VAWA provided that Section 904 (affirming the inherent power of Indian tribes to exercise special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction over all persons with certain ties to the tribe for certain domestic violence and dating violence offenses) and Section 905 (affirming tribal civil jurisdiction to issue and enforce protection orders involving any person) did not apply in Alaska, except with respect to the Metlakatla Indian Community, Annette Island Reserve.

The expanded tribal jurisdiction under the VAWA reauthorization is largely tied to Indian Country, and to that extent applies on a more limited basis in Alaska. However, some of the jurisdictional provisions are not tied to Indian Country. For example, the authority under Section 905 to exercise civil jurisdiction “to issue and enforce protection orders involving any person, including the authority to enforce any orders through civil contempt proceedings, to exclude violators from Indian land, and to use other appropriate mechanisms” applies to matters arising in Indian Country “or otherwise within the authority of the Indian tribe.”

Following passage of S 1474 by the House on December 11, 2014, Senator Murkowski (R-AK) noted in a press release that “beginning next month, it will be imperative to ensure that our tribal courts in Alaska receive the funding they need to deliver the justice and protection [they] need and deserve—not only for training and capacity development, but also for operations.”

Please let us know if we may provide additional information regarding the repeal of Section 910 of the VAWA reauthorization.