Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, introduced Savanna’s Act in 2017. The bill, which would serve to address the crisis of Missing and Murdered Women and Girls, initially passed unanimously in the Senate but stalled in the House after U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican in Virginia, questioned language in the bill.
According to Heitkamp’s office — Savanna’s Act, which would increase access to crime database information for murdered and missing Indigenous women for federal agencies and more — is legislation to ensure North Dakota’s tribes have the information and resources they need to protect women and girls from violence, abduction, and human trafficking.
In a series of tweets, Heitkamp began a thread with the following: @RepGoodlatte is blocking my bill, #SavannasAct, from moving forward. Call his office at 202-225-5431 to urge him to support this important legislation that would help address the epidemic of missing & murdered Native American women across our country. #MMIW”
Heitkamp is also challenging Goodlatte’s office regarding their questioning of language in the bill, which had already passed unanimously in the Senate.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte introduces Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge as the new 6th Congressional District winner on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 at Holiday Inn at Tanglewood in Roanoke. (Heather Rousseau /The Roanoke Times via AP)
“What it is, is that there is a preference in the bill for grants from two law enforcement grant programs for states, localities, and tribes that have implemented guidelines for addressing the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. A needed step. But Chairman Goodlatte doesn't want that preference for Indian Country or communities. That shows a serious lack of understanding about how serious the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people is. Additionally, Savanna's Act also addresses a serious problem that happens to Native women in urban areas and other parts of the country.”
Though the House returns to session Wednesday, the final days are near the Christmas holiday and many of the politicians voted out are now without official offices, thus, the passage of Savanna’s Act seems dire. But Senator Heitkamp says House members need to do the jobs they were paid to do.
Heitkamp told Indian Country Today, “Congressman Kramer has said we are out of time, I say, 'well, you wouldn’t be out of time if you came back to work.'”
Heitkamp says she has been meeting with other legislators to include Senator Schumer to see if there might be options to keep Savanna’s Act alive.
Heitkamp's offices also told Indian Country Today via email that the House Republican leadership could bring up the bill for a vote and bypass Goodlatte's stalling of the bill if they wanted to do so.
“The easy thing would be for House leadership to put it on the suspension calendar and pass it, but unfortunately one congressman over there who isn't even going to be there next year has decided to hold it up. And I think that's incredibly unfortunate,” said Heitkamp.
“The most important thing that we can do for these crime victims is to recognize them and to say they are a priority and this year-end refusal to do this does exactly the opposite. That's why I am being so aggressive on trying to get this done. We haven't given up and I'm not going to give up trying to get this thing done until the gavel goes down.”
Senator Heitkamp says she had a message for those House members who might refuse to return to DC to vote in the session.
“Come back to work. You're getting a paycheck.”
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling
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