Last month the Senate held a hearing on a new Department of Justice report, Ending Violence So Children Can Thrive  that addressed exposure to violence by children within the American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities.  An issue that surfaced in the testimony and in the report recommendations was addressed was addressed by Congress last week with the passage of S 1474.

The legislation strips out a section from the recently passed Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), section 910, which has been referred to as the Alaska exception.  The provision allows special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction to tribal courts over non- Indian offenders who commit domestic violence, dating violence, or violate a protection order.   The provision did not extend to Alaska and the report recommendations stated, “It is troubling that tribes have no criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit heinous crimes of sexual and physical abuse of AI/AN children in Indian country. Congress has restored criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence, commit dating violence, and violate protection orders. Congress should now similarly restore the inherent authority of AI/AN tribes to assert full criminal jurisdiction over all persons who commit crimes against AI/AN children in Indian country including both child sexual abuse and child physical abuse.”

The provision had been included by Alaskan congressional leaders but caused problems so much so that Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) had raised the issue at last month’s hearing and had indicated that he was working on getting legislation through before Congress left.  The entire Alaska delegation was involved and it passed last Thursday.

The task force report was the result of a special task force set up by Attorney General Eric Holder in 2013, the Defending Childhood Initiative.