WASHINGTON — The House voted Thursday to reauthorize an expanded version of the landmark 1994 Violence Against Women Act without support from the Arkansas delegation.
The measure previously passed the Senate, and President Barack Obama said he would sign the bill into law "as soon as it hits my desk."
The act, which Congress has twice reauthorized, provides services to victims of domestic and sexual violence. It lapsed in 2011 amid partisan disputes over key provisions.
The House took up the bill two weeks after it had cleared the Senate. After a GOP alternative was rejected, the House voted 286-138 in favor. Only 87 Republicans supported final passage – none from Arkansas.
Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, voted for the Republican alternative but against the final bill. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, voted against both.
Delegation members raised constitutional concerns over a provision that would allow tribal courts jurisdiction over non-Native Americans who are accused of committing an act of domestic violence on tribal lands.
"I could not support the Senate version because while protecting women, we must also protect our constitutional rights which the Senate version failed to afford U.S. citizens on tribal lands," Womack said.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., raised similar concerns two weeks ago when he voted against the bill. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted for it.
The National Congress of American Indians praised passage of the Senate-crafted bill for providing them the authority to prosecute non-American Indians defendants who assault Native American women on tribal land.
"With this authority comes a serious responsibility and tribal courts will administer justice with the same level of impartiality that any defendant is afforded in state and federal courts," said NCAI President Jefferson Keel, who is lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation in south central Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, voted for the Senate version and against the GOP alternative because it extended judicial and legal authority to Native American tribes. Cole is a member of the Chickasaw Nation.
"The absence of adequate judicial and legal authority given to tribes has made reservations places where domestic violence and sexual assaults are all too common," Cole said. "Hunters know where to hunt; fishermen know where to fish. And predators know where to prey. The passage of the Violence Against Women Act gives tribes badly needed tools to combat the epidemic of violence and abuse in Indian Country."
Congress has twice before reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act but allowed it to lapse in 2011. The Senate offered a similar reauthorization bill last year that House Republicans opposed because it would extend services to gay, immigrant and American Indian victims of domestic violence.
Griffin said he preferred the House alternative that would have extended the law for five years while strengthening criminal penalties, providing more resources for sexual assault investigations and care for victims.
Cotton opposed both versions over the tribal authority issue. The House alternative, he said, provided only a qualified right to U.S. citizens to opt for state and federal courts.
"American citizens accused of crimes on Indian reservations should have an unqualified option to proceed with their trials in state or federal court, which currently prosecute crimes against non-Indians arising out of Indian reservations. Without this protection, I could not support today’s legislation," Cotton said.
Oklahoma Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, also voted against both versions of the bill.
House Democrats overwhelmingly opposed the Republican alternative as a weaker version of the bill. They also raised concerns that it would strike protections for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
"By removing protections for LGBT Americans the Republican amendment appears to say that if you’re gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or transgender, it’s OK to beat you up. VAWA will not help you," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
Obama issued a statement after the House vote praising their effort to strengthen the Violence Against Women Act by improving how victims of rape are treated and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community.
"Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk," he said.