Congress Passes VAWA Reauthorization
On February 28, 2013, the United States House of Representatives passed, 286-138, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), securing important protections for abused immigrants and other groups.
The original Violence Against Women Act passed in 1994 and was reauthorized twice without controversy. In 2011, however, reauthorization was jeopardized when majority-Democrat Senate and majority-Republican House of Representatives put forward conflicting versions of the bill. The stalemate continued throughout 2012.
The current bill passed in the Senate on February 12, 2013, by a margin of 78-22. In the House of Representatives on February 28, the bill was supported by all of the 199 voting Democrats and 87 Republicans, while the remaining 138 Republicans opposed it. Although more Republicans opposed the bill than supported it, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has allowed legislation to proceed.
The Violence Against Women Act authorizes funding for programs that help prosecute sexual assault and domestic abuse cases and assist crime victims. The current bill will authorize up to $660 million each year for the next five years for such programs.
The disagreement between Senate and the House of Representatives stemmed in large part from provisions regarding the ability of undocumented immigrants who become victims of crimes to apply for T and U visas, as well as prosecution of non-Native American men accused of domestic violence on tribal lands in tribal courts, and certain protections for gay, bisexual, or transgender victims. Many House Republicans who previously opposed expanding the scope of such provisions, this time joined Democrats in supporting the bill, allowing it to move forward.
President Obama praised the passage of the bill in a statement, saying: “Today’s vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community. The bill also reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, providing critical support for both international and domestic victims of trafficking and helping ensure traffickers are brought to justice.” President Obama indicated he would sign the bill into law.
Vice President Joe Biden, who participated in the creation of the original VAWA bill, said: “Since VAWA first passed in 1994, we have seen a 64% reduction in domestic violence. I am pleased that this progress will continue, with new tools for cops and prosecutors to hold abusers and rapists accountable, and more support for all victims of these crimes. The urgent need for this bill cannot be more obvious. Consider just one fact – that 40% of all mass shootings started with the murderer targeting their girlfriend, or their wife, or their ex-wife. Among many other important provisions, the new VAWA will increase the use of proven models of reducing domestic violence homicides.”
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