Indian Affairs Committee Considers Law Enforcement & Public Safety Bills
Murkowski Bills Highlighted in Hearing Addressing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Crisis
Today the Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a legislative hearing on bills, led by U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and colleagues on the Committee, to address the epidemic of missing, murdered, and trafficked Indigenous women and focus on improving public safety and justice systems. Specifically, the Committee considered the following bills: S.227, Savanna’s Act; S.982, the Not Invisible Act; S. 288, the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act; S.290, the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act, and S.1852, Bridging Agency Data Gaps and Ensuring Safety (BADGES) for Native Communities Act.
“These are important bills and I appreciate the leadership that we’ve had with so many of my colleagues on this committee. The issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women is troubling enough and women that are trafficked is awful to even think about. But part of our problem is we don’t know what we don’t know, and so doing a better job in understanding and ascertaining the data, this is what we’re trying to address with the bills that are before us,” said Senator Murkowski. “What we’re all trying to do is to improve public safety and improve the justice system for our First peoples, whether they be in Alaska, in reservations across the country, or in our urban areas.”
The hearing featured Alaskan witness Michelle Demmert, Chief Justice of the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, whose testimony focused on the need for addressing jurisdictional issues in Alaska and provided insight into the unique challenges facing Alaska tribes. Demmert also commented that the bills under consideration in the Committee demonstrate a path to needed change. During the hearing, Senator Murkowski expressed support for creating a pilot program in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that would extend the Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction to a number of Alaska tribal governments, similar to the provision in the House VAWA (HR 1585), included by Congressman Don Young (R-AK). The Department of Justice witness acknowledged that the pilot does seem like a very good option for consideration.
During the hearing, Senator Murkowski questioned Tracy Toulou, of the Justice Department’s Office of Tribal Justice who recently visited Alaska, alongside Attorney General Barr, to see firsthand the public safety crisis affecting rural Alaska. As a result of that visit, Senator Murkowski asked Toulou to identify specific steps that the agency can collaborate on with her to address these urgent issues, and acknowledged that it’s going to take “all of us working together” from the federal level to tribal, state and local. Murkowski also challenged the agency for unprecedented engagement on the issue. Toulou told Murkowski that upon returning from the Alaska visit, Attorney General Barr tasked staff to work on ways the agency can provide better support, including addressing his concern over the lack of law enforcement resources. Toulou said to expect follow-up from the agency within weeks saying, “We intend to take meaningful action.”
- Savanna’s Act: Senator Murkowski, alongside Senator Cortez Masto (D-NV) reintroduced the Savanna’s Act, a bill to combat the epidemic of murdered and missing Native women and girls by improving the federal government's response to addressing the crisis. During the hearing, Senators Murkowski and Cortez Masto filed a substitute amendment to Savanna’s Act that will ensure that the crisis of missing and murdered Native individuals is addressed throughout the nation by including urban areas, in addition to those in Indian Country.
- Not Invisible Act: In April, Senator Murkowski and Senator Cortez Masto introduced the Not Invisible Act, legislation aimed at addressing the crisis of missing, murdered, and trafficked Native people by engaging law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, and service providers and improving coordination across federal agencies.
- Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act (Justice for Native Survivors): In January, Senator Murkowski joined Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Tina Smith (D-MN) in introducing Justice for Native Survivors, which addresses sexual violence on Indian reservations by restoring Tribal authority to prosecute cases of sexual assault, sex trafficking, and stalking.
- Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act (NYTOPA): Also in January, Senator Murkowski joined Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Tina Smith (D-MN) in introducing NYTOPA, legislation which reaffirms Tribal authority to prosecute attempted and threatened domestic violence and extends the VAWA 2013 protections to children and law enforcement personnel on Tribal lands.
- Bridging Agency Data Gaps and Ensuring Safety (BADGES) for Native Communities Act: Senator Murkowski is an original cosponsor of the BADGES Act, legislation which addresses public safety needs in Indian Country by addressing federal inefficiencies that impact the Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement recruitment and retention, increasing the effectiveness of federal missing persons resources, and directing resources to coordinate tribal and state responses to the missing and murdered Indigenous crisis.
Background: Senator Murkowski has been working with the administration to develop greater collaboration surrounding public safety and law enforcement issues. Building on those efforts, Senator Murkowski hosted U.S. Attorney General William Barr in Alaska, to see firsthand the challenges faced across Alaska due to the lack of local law enforcement as well as to help shed light on the severity of the issue of missing and murdered Native women and girls.