House OKs Violence Against Women Act

By Edward Donga
BU News Service

WASHINGTON – By a 286-138 vote, the U.S. House voted Thursday to adopt legislation – authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. – to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. The measure now goes to President Obama, who vowed to sign it into law “as soon as it hits my desk.”

Passage of the legislation – which includes new protections for Native Americans and undocumented immigrants, as well as lesbian, bisexual and transgender women – ends a more than year-long standoff between the Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-dominated House.

Thursday’s vote came on the heels of a letter earlier this week signed by Leahy and two of his Republican colleagues – Sens. Mike Crapo of Idaho and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – that urged Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, to allow the Senate legislation sponsored by Leahy to come to the House floor.

“As we worked on this bill, I heard the moving stories in hearings and rallies and meetings of those who survived true horrors and had the courage to share their stories in the hopes that others could be spared what they went through,” said Leahy in a statement following Thursday’s action. “We have finally come together to honor their courage and take the action they demanded.”

The Violence Against Women Act – VAWA — provides local communities with funding and resources to assist victims of domestic violence, and to take steps to prevent further instances of domestic violence from occurring. Vice President Joseph Biden, who sponsored the original VAWA legislation in 1994 when he was a senator from Delaware, said in a statement Thursday  that the United States has seen a 64 percent drop in domestic violence since then.

The law has been reauthorized twice since 1994 without political difficulty. But the latest reauthorization became gridlocked in 2011, when many House Republicans took issue with new provisions that expanded protections for same sex couples as well as illegal immigrants and Native Americans.

Last year, House Republican leaders were able to derail the legislation when they found that a provision allowing for an increased number of visas for illegal immigrants who had been victims of domestic violence would raise revenue. According to the Constitution, revenue-raising bills must originate in the House.

When the new Congress convened at the beginning of this year, Leahy reintroduced legislation to reauthorize VAWA. He modified the provision on illegal immigrants to drop the language on the increase in visas, in order to facilitate the bill’s passage.

The Leahy bill passed the Senate in early February by an overwhelming 78-22 bipartisan vote, but it remained unclear whether it could pass the House due to continuing opposition from many conservative Republicans there.

But others in the House GOP were clearly seeking to put the issue behind them — in the wake of an election in which their party had come up short among women and Latino voters, while being adversely affected by controversial comments about rape made by two Republican Senate candidates.

On Thursday, 87 Republicans joined all 199 Democrats present in voting for the Senate-passed bill sponsored by Leahy. But a majority of House Republicans – 138 – opposed it.

Earlier, a Republican-sponsored substitute measure that excluded the new protections for Native American, undocumented immigrant and LGBT victims of violence was defeated by a 257-166 vote. Voting in favor of that substitute was 164 Republicans and just two Democrats, while 60 Republicans joined 197 Democrats in voting against it.

“For over a year, House Republicans leaders displayed a willful, implacable but ultimately failed resistance to protecting LGBT, immigrant, and Native American women from domestic violence,” Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said in a statement.. “I am pleased that a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives has now affirmed what is plainly common sense: that violence is violence no matter what you look like or whom you love.”

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