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Republicans Face Test in Upcoming Vote on Renewing Domestic Violence Law

The Senate bill authorizes American Indian tribes to exercise jurisdiction over crimes of domestic violence that occur within that tribe’s boundaries, but the House bill takes a more complex approach. It requires tribes to submit a request to the attorney general for a “special domestic violence jurisdiction” certification. The approval can take up to 120 days to process, and tribes must prove they are able to and will provide defendants with their constitutional rights.

The House bill also includes language that allows tribes to prosecute incidents of domestic abuse against their citizens only if they have specific written laws against such abuse. Tribes often do not have written laws, a GOP leadership aide noted. In addition, the House bill would allow tribes to pursue such prosecutions only if crimes are misdemeanors, rather than felonies. Felonies should be prosecuted by the federal government, the aide said, noting that tribes currently impose sentence of up to a year, no matter the severity of the crime.

Cole said last week that he would offer an amendment “to address these shortcomings.” His amendment is likely to mirror a bill (HR 780) that he is co-sponsoring with seven other Republicans that would attempt to strike a compromise between the two chambers’ versions.

Like the Senate bill, it allows tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians accused of domestic violence offenses against Indian victims. But it would also allow non-Indians being tried by a tribal court to claim that their rights aren’t being respected and request the case be moved to a U.S. district court instead.

“I stand ready to work with House leadership and have reached out to Speaker Boehner several times. I have not heard from House leadership once this year,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt.

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