Legislation that would give Tribes in Alaska more power to address criminal behavior moved out of a committee in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. The “Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act of 2014” was introduced by U.S. Senator Mark Begich from Alaska and it was passed out of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. That means that the bill can now be considered by the full Senate.
The legislation would create the Alaska Safe Families and Villages Self Governance Program in the federal Office of Tribal Justice Programs. The new program would provide grants to tribes to put in place agreements with the State of Alaska to allow the tribes to enforce some state laws. Senator Begich says the justice system in rural Alaska is broken and he believes one of the ways to fix the system is to give local residents more authority to control drug and alcohol offenses. Begich notes that the version of the bill approved by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Wednesday creates a way for Alaska tribes to apply for expanded civil jurisdiction with the Department of Justice. That would allow tribes to enforce civil sanctions involving child abuse and neglect, domestic violence and substance abuse within village boundaries.
One of the justifications put forward by Senator Begich for the “Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act of 2014” is to respond to a report issued last year by the national Indian Law and Order Commission that urged the State of Alaska and Congress to strengthen tribal sovereignty and self-governance. In a prepared statement Senator Begich stresses that the proposed legislation would repeal a provision inserted into the “Violence Against Women Act” that prohibits tribes in Alaska from issuing and enforcing domestic violence protective orders against non-tribal members. With passage by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the “Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act of 2014” can be considered by the full Senate. However, it’s unclear when that will happen.