Competing “Violence Against Women Act” Bills Explained

Matthew 25:40: The Lord will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Are you for Violence Against Women or against it? Well, that’s the first problem with this legislation. It’s named for the behavior that the bill seeks to prevent. “Support for Victims of Domestic Abuse Act” seems a better title, but someone paid bigger bucks than I came up with that title.

Despite the somewhat confusing name, it’s been a good law. The present bills in Congress would re-authorize the law, which was first enacted in 1994. I don’t pretend to understand why the law has an expiration date. Why do they have to keep re-authorizing it? Does anyone think it won’t be necessary in five years?

But to the point. I saw a link to an article in Christianity Today saying that evangelical Christians were divided on the issue. That story and others I read did not make clear that TWO bills were before the House of Representatives — one backed by Republicans and one backed by Democrats. In e-mails from supporters and opponents I have pieced together at least one difference is that the Democrats’ bill keeps protections for immigrant spouses of American citizens who are involved in domestic abuse. That’s the version that passed in the Senate. The present law and the Senate bill would protect this very vulnerable group from being deported because their spouses beat them.

The version passed in the House, backed by Republicans, would remove protection of immigrant victims of spousal abuse.

U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-St. Louis), in reply to an e-mail message I sent asking about this issue, clarified it for me.

Here’s the text from his message (I added bold-face emphasis and color coding to the bill numbers to help clarify):

VAWA was first enacted in 1994 to provide a comprehensive approach to address the needs of victims of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault. This important piece of legislation provides funding to state and local communities to improve enforcement efforts against domestic violence, to provide housing protection for victims, and to improve educational and social programs to prevent crime. VAWA has a proven track record of success, and since its enactment, has been reauthorized twice, first in 2000 and again in 2006 with my support.
VAWA is set to expire this year unless Congress takes action to extend these vital programs. With overwhelming bipartisan support, the Senate recently passed S. 1925, which extends and expands VAWA for 5 more years. In addition to maintaining current VAWA grant programs, this legislation would increase the cap on available U-Visas to grant nonimmigrant status to immigrants who are victims of domestic violence, redefine “underserved populations” to include those who may be discriminated against based on sexual orientation or gender identity, enhance criminal penalties for criminal and civil rights violations involving sexual abuse, and address jurisdictional issues relating to VAWA’s impact on tribal lands.

As you may know, there are currently two competing versions of the Violence Against Women Act in the House, H.R. 4271, and H.R. 4970H.R. 4271, of which I am a proud cosponsor, very closely mirrors the VAWA reauthorization legislation that passed out of the Senate. H.R. 4970, another version of the VAWA reauthorization, does not include many of the key protections contained in H.R. 4271 as it only protects some victims of violence, not all.
On May 16, 2012, H.R. 4970 was brought before the full House for consideration. Because this bill does not provide for full protections for all victims of violence, I voted against this legislation. While H.R. 4970 narrowly passed, I joined with many of my colleagues in supporting the alternative version, H.R. 4271, since it extends protections to all victims of domestic violence.
I firmly believe that VAWA needs to be reauthorized and needs to be supportive of the needs of domestic violence victims. Since both the House and the Senate have passed versions of the VAWA reauthorization, the bills move to conference in order to be reconciled before being sent to the President.  Please be assured that I will continue to fight for final passage of a bill that most closely resembles H.R. 4271 and S. 1925.  U.S. Rep Russ Carnahan (D-St. Louis)

So there you have it. The Republicans in the House passed a watered-down version of the current act; the Democrats (and some Republicans) in the Senate passed a beefed-up version of the law.
When the advocacy groups start pestering you to call your congressional representatives to urge the conference committee to come to an agreement, it’s the Senate bill that increases support for women victims, including the most vulnerable, and the House bill that decreases support.

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