Senate passes VAWA reauthorization
By Ramsey Cox
02/12/13 02:55 PM ET
The Senate voted 78-22 to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on Tuesday.
The Senate action now sends the bill to the House. Both the House and Senate passed their own versions during the 112th Congress, but neither chamber took up the other's version.
Several Democratic senators -- including Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Sens. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Patty Murray (Wash.) and Jack Reed (R.I.) -- are urging the House to take up and pass the Senate bill. In addition, 17 Republican House members have written a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), urging them to bring a bipartisan VAWA bill to the floor. House GOP leadership has been silent on the issue and no House version has yet been introduced.
Leahy, the lead author of the bill, said he is hopeful that this year the House will take up the Senate-passed reauthorization of VAWA.
“This is a good bill,” Leahy said ahead of the vote Tuesday. “It makes needed changes recommended by victims and those who work with them everyday.”
More than 20 Republican senators joined with Democrats to pass the legislation.
The Senate-version of VAWA reauthorization extends protections for victims of domestic violence to Native Americans, LGBT victims and immigrants.
“A victim of sexual assault or domestic violence is a victim,” said Leahy. “A victim is a victim is a victim and violence is violence is violence."
Democrats, including President Obama, said they preferred the Senate bill because it would give tribal authorities jurisdiction over non-Indians in some domestic violence cases on tribal land, but Republicans say that issue has raised questions about possible violations of constitutional rights of U.S. citizens.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) offered an amendment removing the provision on tribal jurisdiction, but it failed on a 31-59 vote Monday. He expressed concern that U.S. citizens living or working on tribal land would be subject to tribal courts if accused of domestic violence or rape and not have the constitutional trial protections.
“Because the Justice Department has not carried out its charge to protect those Native American people … this solution is to trample on the Bill of Rights of every American who is not Native American?” Coburn said ahead of the vote Monday.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) warned that the issue would come up again in the House if that chamber decides to take up a VAWA reauthorization bill.
The Senate bill also prohibits discrimination against LGBT victims in grant programs to help victims, and would let illegal immigrants stay in the country to receive help if they are victims of domestic violence or rape.
VAWA provides grants to victims of domestic violence in order to encourage victims to leave their abusive situations. Some feel they can’t get away from their abusers because they might not have another form of family income, so the grants can provide housing assistance and cellphones for victims. Under this reauthorization bill, these programs would continue for another five years.
Democrats pointed out that since original passage in 1994, domestic violence rates have fallen by more than 50 percent. They also said 1-in-4 women are victims of domestic violence.
The Senate bill, S. 47, added the SAFER Act, which helps law enforcement agencies address the more than 300,000 rape kits backlogged, waiting to be analyzed across the country.
Also on Tuesday, the Senate approved amendments to the VAWA reauthorization bill addressing human trafficking measures.
Leahy’s amendment passed on a 93-5 vote and would reauthorize appropriations for fiscal years 2014 through 2017 for the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to combat human trafficking. Leahy and the amendment’s, cosponsor Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said the bill includes accountability measures to make sure the funds are being spent wisely and also streamlines programs to help victims.
“We continue to fight human trafficking, and human trafficking is nothing more than modern day slavery,” Leahy said Tuesday. “It is not just a policy matter it is a moral issue.”
Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-Ohio) amendment would ensure that child victims of sex trafficking also have access to grants provided by VAWA, including educational services aimed to protect young victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) cosponsored that amendment, which passed unanimously on a 100-0 vote.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) amendment passed by voice-vote and would clarify that in Alaska, Native American tribal jurisdiction would be for the Metla Katla tribe, which is the only tribe with land in the state despite other tribes residing in the state.
The Senate also rejected two other Coburn-amendments on testing convicted rapists for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and consolidating "duplicative" programs within the Department of Justice.