Feb. 8, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Democrats Tweaking Domestic Violence Legislation

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Leahy reintroduced a new version of the Violence Against Women Act with some tweaks to provisions that caused the bill’s failure in the last Congress.

Senate Democrats ran into a constitutional problem last year when they sought a modest expansion of the U visa program, which makes green cards available to some immigrant victims of domestic abuse who cooperate with law enforcement to help prosecute their batterers.

To pay for the expansion, Democrats imposed a $30 fee, a step that made the Senate bill unconstitutional in the eyes of the House.

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said the Senate legislation had a “blue slip problem,” a reference to the constitutional concerns about revenue, and his announcement sparked a monthslong standoff between the chambers over their competing versions of the reauthorization. Lawmakers eventually ran out of time.

Even if the new Democratic legislation eases Republicans’ constitutional concerns about revenue, it is unclear whether lawmakers will be able to resolve another disagreement — this one over how to handle incidents of domestic abuse that occur on American Indian lands.

Senate Democrats had sought last year to allow tribal courts to prosecute American citizens accused of such offenses when the victims are American Indians. Many Republicans protested, however, questioning whether U.S. citizens’ constitutional rights would be respected in tribal courts.

Two House Republicans, Reps. Darrell Issa of California and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, sought a compromise late last year by introducing legislation that would have allowed non-tribal defendants to be tried by tribal courts but would have also allowed such cases to be moved to federal courts if Americans’ rights were seen as compromised.

GOP leadership, however, never threw its support behind that proposal, and an intraparty fight ensued.

Lauren Smith contributed to this report.

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