Violence Against Women Act

  • 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.

  • May 8, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    His colleagues did not want to hear it, but the House Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) blasted the Republican’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act as wholly inadequate and a “flat-out attack on women,” as The Huffington Post’s Laura Bassett reports.

    Bassett writes that Conyers’ comment sparked “audible sighs and one ‘Come on!’" from Republicans on the panel. Conyers, however, was reacting to the House version, which strays remarkably from the one the Senate passed in late April. The Senate’s reauthorization bill approved despite Republican opposition includes extensions of services to low-income victims of domestic violence, to undocumented immigrants, as well as more help for Native American women and lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender victims of domestic abuse. The House version, H.R. 4970, does not include those extensions of services.

    In statement from House Judiciary Committee Democrats, the measure is described as rolling back “important protections for immigrant victims – putting them in a worse position than under the current law, and excludes other vulnerable populations such as tribal women, college students experiencing abuse …. In short, this legislation seeks to fight domestic violence, but only if the sponsors agree with the race, immigration status, sexual orientation, or gender identity of the victims.”

    Those extensions spurred Republican opposition in the Senate, causing the reauthorization to languish for months. VAWA was passed in 1994 with strong bipartisan support and reauthorized twice since then. But this time around, conservative lawmakers have chaffed at extending services to more people. The obstructionism caught the attention of The New York Times, which said in a February editorial that the opposition was “drive largely by an antigay, anti-immigrant agenda.”

    During the Senate’s struggle to pass VAWA, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told The Times that the opposition was part of an overarching effort “to cut back on the rights and services to women.”