In one of his final acts before leaving office next week, Rep. Bob Goodlatte blocked a bill intended to improve the federal government’s response to violence against Native American women.
A spat between the Republican congressman, whose district is home to the largest Indian tribe in Virginia, and the bill’s sponsor, outgoing Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D.-N.D.), has played out publicly over the past week.
In a tweet, Heitkamp, who lost her bid for reelection, urged people to ask their representatives to pressure Goodlatte to clear the way for the bill, which the Senate passed unanimously this month.
It stalled in the House because Goodlatte, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, declined to bring it up for a vote. House Republican leaders could directly bring Heitkamp’s measure to the floor, bypassing Goodlatte, but so far have declined to do so.
A spokeswoman for Goodlatte did not respond to a message seeking comment Thursday.
Goodlatte told the Roanoke Times that he supports the intent of the bill but objects to a provision that would give preference to certain law enforcement agencies in applying for grants from the Justice Department. Goodlatte, who did not seek reelection this year after 13 terms in office, said Heitkamp’s attempt to pressure him was “just ridiculous.”
The bill’s apparent demise comes days after another debacle for the Republican-led Congress on the issue of protecting abuse victims. Last Friday, a deadlock over President Trump’s border wall plunged the federal government into a partial shutdown, leading to the expiration of the Violence Against Women Act, the 1994 law that provides funding for programs that help victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse and stalking.
With the House adjourned until further notice, it appears unlikely that Heitkamp’s measure, known as Savanna’s Act, will receive a vote before the new session of Congress begins Jan. 3.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has said she will reintroduce it then.
“It’s disappointing that one Republican member of Congress blocked Savanna’s Act from passing this year,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “But fortunately, Rep. Goodlatte won’t be around to block it in the new Congress.”
The offices of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Heitkamp’s bill is named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old pregnant woman killed by a woman who wanted to abduct her baby.
It would direct the Justice Department to boost data-collection efforts on crimes against Native Americans; expand tribal access to federal crime information databases; and establish guidelines for law enforcement in responding to cases of missing or killed Native Americans.
In a statement this month, Heitkamp said she aimed to “spark a nationwide call to action against the growing crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls,” calling the Senate’s passage of the bill “a major step in raising awareness about this growing epidemic.”
Goodlatte told the Roanoke Times that he objects to a provision in the bill that would give preference for grants to law enforcement agencies that comply with the reporting requirements in Savanna’s Act, as opposed to other agencies that have no link to tribal communities and therefore cannot fulfill those requirements.
“The problem is that the way that law was written, it took existing funds available to law enforcement organizations and used it as a reward for people who complied with provisions of the reporting requirements of Savanna’s Act,” Goodlatte told the newspaper.
Goodlatte, who will be succeeded by Rep.-elect Ben Cline (R), has frequently raised the ire of Democrats, including when he tried to strip the House ethics office of its independence and ability to investigate anonymous claims in 2017.
The change in status affected the 4,400 members of the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan and the Nansemond tribes. The Monacan tribe is located in Goodlatte’s district, which stretches from the Shenandoah Valley to the Roanoke Valley and east to Lynchburg.
Karenne Wood, an anthropologist and member of the Monacan tribe, said Goodlatte’s decision to block Heitkamp’s bill suggests that he believes “these women don’t matter.”
Chickahominy Indian Chief Stephen Adkins echoed her concerns. “I am disappointed at his position and I hope he takes another look at his last opportunity to do the right thing for America’s indigenous peoples,” he said.