Sullivan, Heitkamp Bill to Combat Domestic Violence Introduced in House by Reps. Young, Kennedy

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) today announced that their bipartisan bill to help combat domestic abuse and sexual violence by increasing access and promoting pro-bono legal services for victims of domestic violence was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressman Don Young (R-AK) and Congressman Joe Kennedy (D-MA) joined with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Congresswoman Susan Brooks (R-IN) to introduce in the House of Representatives a companion bill to S. 2280, which unanimously passed the U.S. Senate last fall.

“Domestic violence and sexual assault are scourges that we must work to eliminate,” said Senator Sullivan. “One of my priorities as Attorney General for Alaska was to tackle the unacceptably high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in my state. Among other initiatives, I put on a pro bono summit that gathered lawyers from all across the state and saw firsthand how effective such efforts can be. I’m grateful that many lawyers in my state continue to provide much-needed legal services to victims on a pro bono basis. And I am grateful to Congressman Kennedy and Congressman Young for introducing this bill in the House of Representatives. We were sent to Washington, D.C. to make a difference. This bill will help make a difference.” 

“No community or state is immune to the devastating impacts of domestic violence and sexual abuse. As a nation, we must do all we can to stem the tide of this growing epidemic,” said Congressman Don Young. “The POWER Act is only one small step in these efforts, but an important tool to empower victims with the necessary legal resources to seek justice. I’m proud to join Representative Kennedy and Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan in this effort to end the evils of domestic violence.”

“Too often, victims of domestic violence are unable to seek permanent refuge because they lack the protective legal services that keep them safe from their abusers – but our bill aims to change this,” said Senator Heitkamp. “We can make sure domestic violence victims – especially those living in Indian Country – can access affordable legal services that can help them escape the often cyclical abuse they experience. Last fall, the Senate unanimously passed the bipartisan bill Senator Sullivan and I introduced to help make those services more available, and it’s great news that Congressman Kennedy is building on that momentum by introducing our bill in the House of Representatives today with a bipartisan group of cosponsors. As North Dakota’s former Attorney General, I understand the many legal needs of victims of domestic violence – and how difficult access to those services can be. By asking our U.S. Attorney’s to take the lead in prioritizing increased access to legal protections for victims of these crimes, with a particular focus in states like North Dakota on our most vulnerable populations including women in Indian Country, this bill helps make sure those critical defense tools are available to victims who need them most.”

“For the victims of domestic violence, our justice system should be a safe haven,” said Congressman Kennedy. “Instead, too many survivors show up in court and face the very same fear and intimidation they are trying to escape.  Without access to legal assistance, many confront their abuser alone in court, victimized once again.  The POWER Act will help restore the promise of equal protection for the millions of domestic violence victims across our country.”

Sullivan and Heitkamp’s Pro Bono Work to Empower and Represent or POWER Act (POWER Act) would require U.S. Attorneys in each judicial district across the country to work with domestic violence service providers or coalitions and an area volunteer lawyer project to hold at least one event promoting pro-bono legal services. The purpose is to reinforce a critical way to empower survivors of domestic violence, engage citizens, and help lift victims out of the cycle of abuse. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, cosponsored the bill. 

Across Native populations in North Dakota and Alaska, rates of domestic and sexual violence are staggering. To address these crimes specifically in Indian Country and among Native communities, Sullivan and Heitkamp included a provision in the bill mandating U.S. Attorney’s offices work with the Native populations in their judicial district in planning and holding an event every few years with a focus on addressing these crimes in Indian Country and among Native populations.

Senators Sullivan and Heitkamp are both former attorneys general of their states and understand how the legal system can help prevent the probability that victims will again be abused.