The Senate began debate on Wednesday to reauthorize the landmark Violence Against Women Act, a measure that prevents domestic violence and aids victims of domestic or sexual abuse. Earlier this year, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) led a Republican effort to block renewal of the Act because he objected to the bill’s protections for LGBT individuals, undocumented immigrants and Native Americans, causing every single Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote against its reauthorization. House Republicans have also refused to take up the measure earlier this year.
Now, the GOP is crafting watered-down proposals that specifically exclude LGBT people, Native Americans, immigrants, and others:
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, joined by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is preparing an alternative that would alter several Democratic provisions. Their alternative would cap visas available to legal and illegal immigrants who suffer abuse at 10,000 a year, compared to 15,000 proposed by the Democratic bill offered by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. It does not specify, as the Democratic bill does, that violence against gays, lesbians and transgenders are part of the act. The Leahy bill expands the authority of Native American officials to handle cases of abuse of Indian women by non-Indians. The Republican substitute permits tribal authorities to go to federal court for protective orders on behalf of abused Native American women.
The base Senate bill would reauthorize VAWA for five years with funding of $659.3 million a year, down $136.5 million a year from the last VAWA act, which expired several months ago. The money goes to such programs as legal assistance for victims, enforcement of protection orders, transitional housing aid and youth prevention programs.
Sponsors of the House bill, which is still being drafted, said it would be close to the Grassley-Hutchison approach. It was introduced by 12 GOP women lawmakers and three members of the Republican leadership, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.
Mitt Romney, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, has refused to say which version of the Violence Against Women Act he supports, but as Attorney General Eric Holder put it, “For the life of me, I cannot begin to understand why this is something that is a debate within Congress.”
“It is inconceivable to me now that we are in the process of a debate about something that has proven so effective and is clearly so needed for the future,” Holder added. “It must be passed, and it must be passed soon.”
Research indicates that domestic violence among same-sex couples occurs at similar rates as domestic violence among straight couples. Unfortunately, domestic violence victims in same-sex relationships are not receiving the help they need due to the lack of legal recognition of same-sex relationships, law enforcement’s failure to identity and properly handle domestic violence cases involving people of the same sex, and the shortage of resources available to victims of same-sex partner domestic abuse. A 2011 report from the National Anti-Violence Project, however, that rates of domestic abuse and violence have increased among couples in the LGBT community and that support and protections for survivors is low. Reported instances of domestic violence increased 38 percent from last year, including seven deaths, while over 44 percent of survivors were turned away from traditional shelters and over 54 percent who sought court orders for protection from abuse were denied.