Passing good legislation in Washington too often becomes entangled in petty power games. Even noncontroversial proposals with bipartisan support can die in the legislative crib if someone decides, for whatever small reason, to demonstrate his clout.
That’s unfortunately what’s happened to Savanna’s Act, which passed the Senate unanimously but has met an impasse in the House as the final days of this Congress wind down.
This legislation is personal for a lot of people. The tragic inspiration for Savanna’s Act is well known in Fargo. Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind was kidnapped last year from her north Fargo apartment and her unborn baby was stolen from her womb in a crime that shocked the conscience of the community. The criminals responsible for that heinous act are in prison, where they belong, but the case was another example of the abuse and violence that all too often befall American Indian women.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who has been a leading voice for protecting and supporting American Indian communities, seized the initiative and introduced Savanna’s Act, which would improve collection of data on tribal victims, improve tribal access to federal law enforcement databases and create guidelines for responding when a person is reported missing.
Besides the problems in reporting these crimes, these investigations too often falter because of poor communication between various levels of law enforcement at the tribal, federal, state and local levels. The act calls for increased cooperation among agencies and more training for tribal police. The effort would be tracked with annual reports to Congress.
Honestly, who wouldn’t support that? The answer is Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., a retiring congressman who has put a hold on the bill. He seems to want to make some sort of defiant gesture — whatever it is, only Goodlatte knows, he hasn’t divulged his reason — on his way to oblivion.
Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who defeated Heitkamp and will take her Senate seat in January, has said he’s working to get Savanna’s Act across the finish line, but is working against an unforgiving clock. But he’s also questioned the need for the act, suggesting a law might not be required. During their bitter campaign, Heitkamp suggested Cramer has little in the way of legislative accomplishments to show for his six years in the House. This is an ideal opportunity for Cramer to prove her wrong.
If Goodlatte’s sullen stubbornness prevails and Savanna’s Act dies in the House, it would have to be reintroduced in the new Congress, and the process would start all over again. That would be a shame. If it happens, Cramer, along with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Kelly Armstrong, who will take Cramer’s House seat, should work together to revive Savanna’s Act.
The problems Savanna’s Act addresses aren’t going away and shouldn’t be ignored.