KTUU: Attorney General says he'll visit Alaska to see rural justice needs in person

U.S. Attorney General William Barr appeared before a Senate Appropriations Sub-committee Wednesday, on day two of a 2020 budget request hearing. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski asked Barr where he stands on several issues pertinent to Alaska, and the Attorney General said he's already planning a trip to The Last Frontier to see the issues himself.

Murkowski called on Barr to work with her on issues pertaining to stronger protection for Alaska Native villages, specifically dealing with sexual assault and domestic violence offenses.

"You and I had discussion about the issues of just protection in general in outlying areas of very remote parts of my state where we really have got to be thinking outside of the box when it comes to how we provide for protection," said Murkouwski. "Allowing for these limitations based on jurisdiction are really really hard when you have women and children that are vulnerable."

During the hearing, Murkowski encouraged Barr to support tribal provisions to the Violence Against Women Re-authorization Act, that would expand jurisdiction of tribal courts to a broader class of sexual assault and domestic violence offenses, as well as crimes against children and assaults on tribal police officers. It would also allow for a pilot project that is specific to Alaska Native villages that have 75 percent or greater native population to exercise this jurisdiction.

"I'm hopeful that we'll have a chance to bring you up to the state so that we can get you out, into some of these villages, and see how these tribal courts are functioning, and again, better explore the opportunities to provide for a level of safety," said Murkowski. "I do appreciate you including the 5 percent tribal set-aside for the crime victims fund. I think that this is going to make a difference."

Murkowski noted the difficulty many Alaska Native villages face when addressing high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence. In response, Barr agreed that Alaska Native women face unacceptably high levels of violence in very remote areas.

"I've actually scheduled a trip up to Alaska specifically to visit some of these communities, and so I would approach this with a great deal of sympathy for the need to think outside of the box, and to do something that's effective in protecting this vulnerable population," said Barr.

Murkowski also expressed her support and co-sponsorship of the STATES act, which would essentially allow legal-cannabis states to set their own marijuana policy and exempt them from federal marijuana law enforcement. She asked Barr to address the disconnect between federal and state law.

"The situation that I think is intolerable - and which I'm opposed to - is the current situation we're in," said Barr. "Personally, I would still favor one uniform federal rule against marijuana, but if there's not sufficient consensus to obtain that, then I think the way to go is to permit a more federal approach so states can make their own decisions within the framework of the federal law, so we're not just ignoring the enforcement of federal law."

Other pillars of the STATES act include the prohibition of sale or distribution of marijuana to people under 21. It would also protect banks that work with marijuana businesses.

By:  Kristen Durand
Source: KTUU