Senator’s legislation beefs up law enforcement’s ability to combat violence, human trafficking in Indian Country

From Senator Tester’s Office 

U.S. SENATE — During a recent Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing, Department of Justice (DOJ) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) officials gave feedback on five bipartisan bills backed by U.S. Senator Jon Tester to help tribal, state, and federal law enforcement agencies confront the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis.

“From the feds to the states to the Tribes, we need to make sure folks are working together to find and implement meaningful solutions to the MMIW crisis,” Tester said. “These bipartisan bills will help us do just that. I hope all of my colleagues, both on the Indian Affairs Committee and in the Senate, will help move these bills forward, because together we can find solutions, support survivors, and bring their assailants to justice—but only if Congress acts.”

The hearing focused on the legal, judicial, and criminal aspects of the MMIW crisis, featuring testimony from the Director of the DOJ’s Office of Tribal Justice and the Deputy Director of the BIA’s Office of Justice Services, among others. The witnesses and Committee members gave feedback on five different Tester-backed bills aimed at addressing issues of recruitment, communication, and jurisdiction among Tribal, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. These bills include the: 

BADGES Act – The lengthy background check process for prospective tribal officers is one of the main reasons Native communities are currently suffering from law enforcement shortages. That’s why Tester is sponsoring the Bridging Agency Data Gaps and Ensuring Safety (BADGES) for Native Communities Act to give the BIA authority to conduct its own background checks on applicants, streamlining the hiring process. The bill would also improve federal information sharing, create a Tribal Liaison position, establish grants for Tribes and states to address the MMIW crisis, and require the DOJ to provide more information about law enforcement staffing and resources across Indian Country. 

Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act – Tester helped reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act in 2013, which restored the rights of qualifying Tribes to prosecute non-Native offenders for domestic violence on their reservations. The Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act would extend this special VAWA tribal jurisdiction to related acts of violence committed against children, care givers, and law enforcement officers by non-Native perpetrators.

Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act – This bill extends special VAWA Tribal jurisdiction to cover sexual assault, sex trafficking, and stalking. It also requires increased coordination among BIA and other agencies to increase awareness of victim services programs, and additional training for federal employees on how to properly respond to cases of domestic violence. 

Savanna’s Act – This bill would improve information sharing between Tribal and federal law enforcement agencies, increase data collection on missing persons in Indian Country, and require the DOJ to create standardized guidelines for responding to missing or murdered Native Americans.

Not Invisible Act – This bill would create an Advisory Committee within the BIA—made up of Tribal leadership, federal officials, law enforcement representatives, and service providers—that would be responsible for making recommendations to the Department of the Interior and the DOJ, as well as federal, state, and Tribal law enforcement, about how to best respond to, report, and prevent violence and human trafficking across Indian Country. 

Tester has worked tirelessly to address the ongoing crisis of violence against women in Indian Country. During a week of advocacy last month, Tester delivered a speech on the Senate floor calling for more legislative action to address the MMIW crisis and pressed BIA officials on what the agency has done to improve its response to cases of violence against Native women. During that week, Tester also successfully petitioned the government’s top watchdog to conduct a full review of how federal agencies respond to reports of missing and murdered Native Americans and recommend solutions based on their findings.

Tester is now calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Leadership to bring up and pass the 2019 Violence Against Women Act to ensure that Tribes have the authority to bring perpetrators to justice and to provide survivors with the resources they need to thrive.

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