With Alaska's domestic violence rates among the highest in the country, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today took to the Senate floor and stressed to his colleagues the urgency of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
"Congress needs to send the simple and important message that America will not tolerate violence against its women, children, and families. This bill saves lives," said Begich. "VAWA has made a real difference but there are too many painful stories and inexcusable statistics. I urge my colleagues in Congress to put slogans aside, do their jobs and pass this bill."
VAWA first became law 20 years ago but has not been reauthorized since 2006. Last spring the Senate passed a VAWA bill with solid bipartisan support, but it was never taken up by the U.S. House. The rate of domestic violence in Alaska is 2.5 times the national average and even worse for Alaska Native women. Nationally, one out of every three women Native American women have suffered rape, physical violence, or stalking.
Begich is an original co-sponsor of VAWA and has fought on multiple fronts against the problem of domestic violence in Alaska and across the country. Through his introduction in the last Congress of the Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act, Begich has proposed pilot programs to strengthen Alaska tribal court systems and provide aid to tribes to improve rural public safety, reduce domestic violence, child abuse, crime, and drug and alcohol abuse.
Begich, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, also spoke today against a suggested Republican amendment that would strike language in the pending VAWA bill to give tribes expanded criminal jurisdiction on Indian reservations in the Lower 48. If the bill passes without that damaging amendment, Alaska's only tribal reservation at Metlakatla would gain the ability to prosecute non-Natives accused of committing domestic violence crimes on reservation lands. Begich is working on a pilot program proposal that would offer the capacity to a limited number of other tribes in Alaska.
Senate leaders are hoping to work out an agreement to begin voting on VAWA amendments today and pass the final bill next Monday.