• February 28, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    It took the U.S. House of Representatives far too long, but it has finally passed a more inclusive and bolder reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). 

    By a vote of 286 – 138, the House passed the reauthorization version approved by the Senate earlier this month. The measure will now be sent to President Obama for his signature.

    The Senate reauthorization was passed during the 112th Congress, but died when the House refused to support it, opting instead for a more limited version. The Senate reauthorization, sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), extends services to help more victims of domestic violence. It does so by providing expanded jurisdiction to tribal courts to prosecute domestic violence. The reauthorization also includes more services for college students, undocumented immigrants and members of the LGBT community.

    Leahy applauded the House for passing a “fully-inclusive, life-saving legislation with a bipartisan vote” but also noted that supporting such legislation should not have been such a heavy lift. Indeed VAWA was passed with strong bipartisan support in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005 without much wrangling.

    “We made the Violence Against Women Act our top priority in this Congress but it should not have taken this long,” Leahy continued.

    Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), a leading voice opposing the House Republican’s weak VAWA reauthorization, said it was time to bolster the law. “It is critical that we continue these programs and, with this subsequent reauthorization, those safeguards will be afforded to the LGBT, Native American, and immigrant communities as well.”

    This time around, as The New York Times and others pointed, the Republican-led House was obstinately opposed to the reauthorization legislation because it extended services to undocumented immigrants and the LGBT community. In a Feb. 9 editorial, The Times blasted Republican opposition as “driven largely by an antigay, anti-immigrant agenda.” Right-wing organizations, such as the Family Research Council, also mounted strident attacks on the reauthorization, claiming it would run up deficits and undermine individual freedoms. Longtime right-wing activist Phyllis Schafly called the VAWA reauthorization a “slush fund for the feminist lobby.”


  • February 12, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    There was a time, a long time ago, when major pieces of social safety net legislation could get through Congress with some bipartisan support. For example, the Violence Against Women Act, which extended government services to victims of domestic violence, passed Congress in 1994 with bipartisan support.

    But as noted here last year the reauthorization of the VAWA proved too difficult for the 112th Congress, primarily because of the Republican-controlled House, which is all about cutting services for the nation’s most vulnerable, while coddling the superrich. A Senate reauthorization version, championed by Sen. Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), would extend government services to help more victims of domestic violence – such as providing limited jurisdiction to tribal courts to prosecute violence committed on tribal lands by those who are not living on the land or not members of the community.

    Today the 113th passed a VAWA reauthorization similar to the one it passed last session – one aimed at bolstering the services provided to victims of domestic violence and extending services to more victims of domestic violence. And the reauthorization measure had some Republican support – 23 voted in favor. All Democrats supported the measure. Twenty-two Republican rejected reauthorization.

    Once again it was the extension of services that prompted Republicans to vote against reauthorization. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he couldn’t support reauthorization, in part, because of “concerns regarding the conferring of criminal jurisdiction to some Indian tribal governments over all persons on Indian country, including non-Indians,” Pema Levy reported for TPM.

    In an ACS Issue Brief, law professor Matthew L.M. Fletcher urged national lawmakers to help with an epidemic of domestic violence on Indian reservations partly by “recognizing tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians for domestic violence misdemeanors.”


  • July 13, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    More than a decade ago federal lawmakers had little trouble coming together to pass a piece of legislation aimed at improving the lives of some the country’s most vulnerable. It was 1994 when Congress in sweeping bipartisan fashion passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), extending government services to victims of domestic violence.

    But reauthorizing that law is mired in what The Hill’s Russell Berman says is a “familiar Capitol dynamic – a political staring contest on stalled legislation that has historically enjoyed strong bipartisan support.”

    While Berman paints an evenhanded picture – both parties are obstinate, can’t work together – a strong argument can be made that what is really going on here involves the intransigence of the Republican Party. The party has moved so far to the fringe, has become so hostile to helping the nation’s most vulnerable that it should come as no surprise that it does not want to work with the Senate to reauthorize VAWA.

    The reason is straightforward: today’s VAWA would expand services for victims of domestic violence.

    The measure the Senate passed in April would bolster services for immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence, it would strengthen the ability of Native American authorities to prosecute domestic violence, and it would ensure help the LGBT community.

    House Republicans and right-wing lobbying groups have opposed the new services. Longtime right-wing activist Phyllis Schafly, for instance, called the Senate’s VAWA reauthorization a “slush fund for the feminist lobby.”

    When the House passed its reauthorization of VAWA in May it did not include the Senate’s call for extension of services, but also sought to cut existing services. At the time the House Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member Rep. John Conyers blasted the House version for rolling back “existing law” and failing “to protect some of the most vulnerable victims of violence.”

  • May 16, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The U.S. House of Representatives, which has already passed a budget slashing services to the nation’s most vulnerable to protect military spending, is perhaps not surprisingly, likely to approve a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that guts services for victims of domestic violence.

    The House is expected to approve the reauthorization measure, H.R. 4970 today, despite differing substantially from the reauthorization passed in April by the Senate. The Senate version extends legal services for low-income victims of domestic violence and extends protections protections for undocumented immigrants, Native Americans and lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender victims of the domestic violence.

    The House version, however, as TPM reports, did win the endorsement of a group called the National Coalition for Men. That group is devoted to raising “awareness about the ways sex discrimination affects men and boys.” As TPM notes neither reauthorization measure addresses on the group’s primary arguments against the Violence Against Women Act – that too many men are arrested on “false accusations” of domestic violence.

    The endorsement by the men’s group did little to assuage concerns of House Democratic leaders and supporters of the VAWA, some of whom blasted the House version as a shoddy piece of legislation aimed at slowing reauthorization.

    For example, the House Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member Rep. John Conyers, who has railed against the weak VAWA reauthorization being rammed through that chamber, said in a May 16 statement that it “rolls back existing law and fails to protect some of the most vulnerable victims of violence.”

    Unlike the Senate’s reauthorization measure, Conyers (pictured) noted that the House’s measure “does little to nothing to ensure members of the LGBT community and Native women are protected from violence.”

    VAWA was enacted in 1994 with bipartisan support and reauthorized twice since then. The Senate reauthorization was sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). Though the Senate reauthorization was held up by Republican-led attacks on the extension of services, it was able to pass the Senate with 68 votes.

    Today, Sen. Leahy lauded the Senate’s passage as a bipartisan success, calling it an “example of what we can accomplish when we put politics aside and work to find real solutions to the problems facing Americans.”

    Leahy, however, tagged the House version as seriously flawed.

  • April 26, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In 1994 federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle banded together to advance legislation aimed at tackling the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence. It was and remains a noble goal. Indeed it represented one of the more communitarian pieces of legislation of the time. The nation it seemed, even if fleeting, to be concerned about bettering the quality of lives of some of the nation’s most vulnerable, as opposed to catering solely to the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful.

    Today reauthorization of the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), as noted on this blog, is mired in mindless obstructionism. The reauthorization measure was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, and finally passed the Senate today on a 68-31 vote. But House Republicans are itching to keep obstructionism alive, promising their own reauthorization measure.

    Though the Justice Department has reported a decline in domestic violence, a 2011 National Census of Domestic Violence Services revealed that more than 67,000 victims of domestic violence received federal help in a single day.

    Moreover since enactment of the VAWA it has become apparent that services need to be extended, such as free legal services to victims, authority for Native American officials to respond to abuse of Indian women by those not covered by Indian jurisdiction, more help to undocumented people who are victims of domestic violence, and to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender victims of domestic violence.  

    It is this effort to help more people that spurred opposition. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) complained about the reauthorization measure’s additional services. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said the bill’s efforts to expand the reach of domestic violence programs were meant to “invite opposition.”

    Right-wing lobbying groups have also ramped up opposition to reauthorization. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins said the VAWA reauthorization bill “does real violence to the budget and individual freedom.

    Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a Tea Party favorite, took to the Senate floor to declare that he was not voting against helping victims of domestic violence. He said he was voting against “big government and inefficient spending ….”

    Sen. Patrick Leahy, who introduced the reauthorization measure with Michael Crapo (R-Idaho), lauded today’s Senate vote, and said he hoped the House “will soon consider this legislation ….”

    But The Associated Press reported recently that a group of Republicans in the House is working to create a different reauthorization bill. It would likely strip the Senate’s efforts to help undocumented immigrants, Native Americans, and gays, lesbians and transgenders.

    During the Senate’s drawn-out effort to reauthorize the VAWA, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told The New York Times that the Republican opposition “is part of a larger effort, candidly, to cut back on the rights and services to women. We’ve seen it go from discussions on Roe v. Wade, to partial birth abortion, to contraception, to preventive services from women. This seems to be one more thing.”