Alaska tribal court jurisdiction would expand under US bill

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A provision of a U.S. Senate bill would expand tribal court jurisdiction for up to 30 Alaska tribes as part of a pilot program aimed at addressing high rates of violence.

The provision added by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is part of a bipartisan measure that would renew the Violence Against Women Act.

The last time the act was renewed, it allowed for tribes in the Lower 48 to prosecute domestic violence cases on their reservations, regardless of defendants’ race or tribal membership.

More than two dozen tribes exercise those powers, with the U.S. Justice Department providing grants and technical assistance, Alaska Public Media reported on Tuesday.

Murkowski said the change the bill would make, related to Alaska, is limited.

“It is just a recognition that in order to provide for a level of safety in our communities, we had to look to some alternatives,” she said.

Tribes across Alaska have courts that decide child protection, adoption cases, bootlegging and other cases, but their power over non-members is limited. Just one of Alaska’s 229 tribes is on a reserve.

The Senate reauthorization bill relies on census tracts to define the territory of jurisdiction. It would leave it up to the Justice Department to decide if a tribe meets eligibility criteria for the program.

A renewal bill with a similar program added by Alaska Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young passed the House last year.

Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy said his staff was reviewing the bills.

“We’re going to make sure that everybody’s constitutional rights are protected,” he said. “At the same time, we’re determined to work with any and all groups in the state of Alaska — to protect victims, to protect individual Alaskans, regardless of whether in urban Alaska, rural Alaska, Native, non-Native, and tribal, non tribal.”