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Senate Passes Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization; President Obama Urges House To Act

Senate Passes Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization; President Obama Urges House To Act

February 13, 2013 — The Senate on Tuesday voted 78-22 to approve a bill (S 47) that would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act for five years and add new protections for Native American women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims, the Washington Post reports (Helderman, Washington Post, 2/12).

The Senate approved the measure with significant bipartisan support. Twenty-three Republicans backed the legislation, compared with 15 last year, when the reauthorization stalled over House lawmakers' concerns about the scope of government and expanding the jurisdiction of tribal courts on Native American reservations (Weisman, New York Times, 2/12). All female senators from both parties voted in support of the bill (Kim [1], Politico, 2/12).

Key Provisions, Trafficking Amendments

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), would provide $659 million across five years -- a 17% decrease from 2005, when VAWA was last renewed. The funding would cover grants to state and local authorities for legal assistance, transitional housing, law enforcement training, stalker databases and domestic violence hotlines. The bill also includes a provision that would accelerate analysis of DNA evidence in rape cases to help alleviate an estimated backlog of 400,000 untested rape kits nationwide (AP/USA Today, 2/12).

The main hurdle to House passage of the Senate bill is a provision that would grant tribal courts authority to hear cases involving U.S. citizens who are charged with assaulting Native American women on reservations (Anderson, CQ Roll Call, 2/12). Some Republicans argue the provision would violate U.S. residents' due process rights (Venteicher, Los Angeles Times, 2/12). Conservatives also oppose language in the Senate measure stating that VAWA's protections extend to LGBT survivors of violence.

To appease some House objections, the latest version omitted a provision from last year that would have increased the number of visas available to immigrants who experience domestic violence (Politico, 2/12). Instead, the Senate bill includes "modest improvements" for immigrants, the Los Angeles Times reports. Leahy said he would re-examine the visas issue as part of immigration reform (Los Angeles Times, 2/12).

Earlier on Tuesday, senators voted 93-5 to attach an amendment that would extend the Trafficking Victims Protection Act through 2017. Senators also unanimously supported an amendment proposed by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that would include sex-trafficking victims in a grant program for children exposed to violence (CQ Roll Call, 2/12).

Pressure Mounts for House Action

The Senate vote came the day after 17 House Republicans urged party leaders to take action on an anti-violence bill that could garner bipartisan support, unlike last year's House bill, which advanced in a mostly party-line vote. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the lawmakers called for a House version that covers "all victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in every community in the country" (Weisman, New York Times, 2/12).

Cantor has been negotiating with Vice President Biden, the chief author of the original law, and others, according to Politico. Cantor said last week that sticking points still remain regarding the issue of tribal courts' jurisdiction (Kim [1], Politico, 2/12).

Obama Calls on House To Act

In a statement, President Obama called on the House to follow the Senate's lead. "Delay isn't an option when three women are still killed by their husbands or boyfriends every day" and "when countless women still live in fear of abuse, and when one in five have been victims of rape," he said, adding, "This is not a Democratic or Republican issue -- it's an issue of justice and compassion (Weisman, New York Times, 2/12).

During his State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, Obama reiterated his call for the House to pass the bill (Speech text, New York Times, 2/12).

Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) delivered the high-profile Republican response to Obama's speech just hours after voting against the VAWA bill (Kim [2], Politico, 2/12). In a statement released after the vote, Rubio said he largely supports the bill but would not vote "yes" because of his belief that local coalitions should make decisions regarding where funding should go and his objection to the tribal courts provision (Thrush, "Politico 44," Politico, 2/12).