WASHINGTON ― A bill to combat the appallingly high rates of missing and murdered Native women has stalled in the House, despite sailing through the Senate, because a single Republican congressman is mysteriously holding it up.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is blocking the bill, called Savanna’s Act, aimed at helping the federal government respond to the grim reality that 84 percent of Native women experience violence in their lifetime. They are murdered at 10 times the national average.
The bill would require the Department of Justice to train law enforcement agencies to record tribal enrollment information in crime information databases. It would also require the attorney general to seek recommendations from tribes to improve access to local, state and federal crime information databases, and it would create locally developed guidelines for responding to cases of missing and murdered Native Americans.
The bill sounds like a no-brainer. The Senate unanimously passed it last week, and it was expected to easily pass the House this week on the suspension calendar, which expedites votes on bills with broad support. But Goodlatte, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, has indicated he has concerns with the bill, so it’s stopped moving.
With Congress set to adjourn for the year as soon as Friday, the bill is on the verge of expiring without action. If it did, that would mean Congress would have to start all over again next year, sending the measure through committee hearings and votes in both chambers.
It’s not clear why, exactly, Goodlatte is holding it up.
“We have been working on this bill in order to advance it, including working with DOJ and stakeholders to address issues with the language,” a Judiciary Committee aide said.
The aide did not provide more details or respond to a follow-up question about whether Goodlatte will let the bill pass before Congress adjourns.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who authored the bill, has publicly ripped Goodlatte for preventing her legislation from becoming law.
Heitkamp even appealed to Goodlatte’s son, Bobby, to talk some sense into his dad about the bill. Bobby Goodlatte made news earlier this year by announcing he had donated money to his dad’s Democratic replacement.
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) did not respond to a request for comment on why the bill is being held up and whether it’s expected to get a vote before Congress adjourns.
Heitkamp and Goodlatte will both be gone in the next Congress; she lost her reelection and he is retiring. If anything, that’s freed up Heitkamp to devote her final days in Washington to publicly shaming Goodlatte.
“My bill is being blocked from a vote in the U.S. House because of petty partisan games being played by one individual, Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “Unlike Congressman Goodlatte, I am serious about saving lives and making sure Native American women are invisible no longer ― and I’m determined to not let Savanna’s Act go down without a fight. And I hope every member of Congress puts pressure on him so we can pass Savanna’s Act now.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said Bobby Goodlatte donated money to his dad’s Democratic opponent. His father wasn’t running for re-election; the donation was to the Democrat running to replace his dad in Congress.