Udall, Senate Democrats Introduce VAWA Reauthorization Bill With Strong Tribal Provisions For Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women Epidemic

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall today joined U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Senate Democrats in introducing the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019. Courtesy photo

From the Office of U.S. Sen. Tom Udall:  

  • Violence Against Women Act reauthorization is needed to protect women in New Mexico and across the U.S.
  • Udall-championed Tribal provisions will enhance public safety for Native women and families

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs today joined U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Senate Democrats in introducing the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019 (VAWA).

The bill, which is similar to the bipartisan VAWA reauthorization package passed by the House of Representatives in April, includes key Tribal provisions that protect Native women, make Tribal communities safer, and build on the landmark Tribal jurisdiction provisions of the 2013 reauthorization.

“It is appalling that Senate Republican leadership is still refusing to reauthorize VAWA—a proven program that protects women and families in New Mexico and across the country. While this bill sits in the majority leader’s legislative graveyard, the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is devastating Native families in New Mexico and across the country. It’s past time we take bipartisan action to end the cycle of violence. By reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and strengthening provisions to protect Native women, families, and communities, countless lives will be saved and families devastated by violence will receive the protection and justice they deserve,” Udall said.

“While VAWA has been an overall success, the alarming rates of violence against Native women too often go unaddressed because of jurisdictional gaps. In 2013, I was proud to lead the charge to make sure that Native women were better included in the Violence Against Women Act. That was a big step in the right direction. But there are still gaps in federal law that allow violent offenders in Indian Country to slip through the cracks of the justice system,” Udall continued. “I am proud to champion the Tribal provisions included in the House-passed VAWA reauthorization and in our bill introduced today. This issue is too important for Indian Country – Congress cannot delay any longer. I applaud Senator Feinstein’s dedication to getting this reauthorization done, and I urge Majority Leader McConnell and Republican leadership to join our efforts to address the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and reauthorize VAWA.”

The Tribal provisions included in the Senate VAWA Reauthorization bill are based on Udall’s bipartisan legislation, the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act (NYTOPA), as well as the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act, led by Udall and Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

The Tribal Title of the VAWA reauthorization would:

Restore Tribal jurisdiction over crimes of child violence, sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking, obstruction of justice, and assault of Tribal justice personnel committed by non-Indians offenders

Maintain Tribal jurisdiction over crimes of dating violence, domestic violence, and violations of Tribal civil protection orders first put in place by VAWA 2013

Ensure all Tribes, including those in Alaska and Maine, are able to utilize these jurisdictional tools

Codify the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Tribal Access Program (TAP), which provides Tribes with access to federal criminal information databases to ensure crime data can be shared between Tribal, state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies

Require the Government Accountability Office and DOJ to produce a series of reports on Missing and Murdered Indian Women.

Udall, Smith and Murkowski developed NYTOPA and the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act in response to feedback from Tribes and Native women’s advocates that violent offenders continued to use legal loopholes to avoid prosecution in Tribal communities.

As vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Udall has helped lead efforts in Congress to combat violence against Native women by convening oversight hearings and listening sessions to learn from Tribes on how to implement and improve VAWA to better serve Indian Country’s needs. Udall was also a leader in the 2013 effort to amend VAWA to restore Tribal jurisdiction over domestic violence crimes committed on reservations, which was instrumental to ensuring that Native women have the same protection from domestic abuse as all other women in the United States. Earlier in his career, he worked to prevent and prosecute domestic violence when he served as New Mexico’s attorney general, convening the first statewide roundtable on domestic violence.

Udall cosponsored a resolution designating May 5th as a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls – and led a group of 5 Senate Democrats to call for the Senate to take up the  VAWA reauthorization.

Available data from the Department of Justice indicates there are more than 5,000 cases of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and that 55 percent of Native women have experienced domestic violence.

The VAWA reauthorization bill text is available HERE.