By Edward Donga
BU News Service
WASHINGTON – On a key procedural motion, the Senate voted overwhelmingly, 85-8, Monday evening to move ahead on a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act – a measure authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
The Violence Against Women Act – VAWA — was first passed into law in 1994, and has been reauthorized twice since. But the last reauthorization expired more than a year ago, and the legislation has since been caught in a standoff between differing versions approved by the
Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-majority House of Representatives.
But Monday’s Senate vote — which gave the green light to beginning debate on the bill itself – attracted the support of not only every member of the Democratic majority who was present, but also more than two-thirds of Senate Republicans as well.
Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, a Republican conservative, helped Leahy to obtain bipartisan support for the measure. The 85 votes in favor of the motion to proceed to the bill – including 53 Democrats and 32 Republicans — were well in excess of the 60 vote supermajority needed in such cases. It foreshadows swift passage of the legislation itself in the Senate, perhaps as early as the end of this week.
The Violence Against Women Act provides communities with resources to combat acts of domestic violence and to protect and aid victims of such acts. Advocates of the law point to the decrease in such violence as evidence of its success. “The annual incidence of domestic violence has dropped more than 50 percent [since 1994],” Leahy said in remarks on the Senate floor.
The two Republican senators in New England’s congressional delegation, Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Susan Collins of Maine, both voted to move ahead with the legislation. “This is not, and cannot, be a partisan issue,” Collins declared via her Twitter account. “I call upon my colleagues to support this legislation.”
However, House Republican conservatives took issue with three new provisions in last year’s Senate-passed bill. These involved extending protection under the law to illegal immigrants, same-sex couples, and Native Americans.
The bill passed Monday in the Senate does modify the provisions of last year’s legislation with regard to illegal immigrants. House Republicans objected to the prior Senate proposal on constitutional grounds, arguing that bill’s language would increase the number of visas granted to illegal immigrants who were victims of domestic abuse.
This would affect revenue, and therefore violated the clause of the U.S. Constitution that all bills that raise revenue must originate in the House, they contended.
Said Leahy, “We removed it from the bill this year to take away that technical excuse and expedite action on the bill.” Leahy did pledge, however, to address the subject when immigration reform legislation in debated by Congress later this year.
But another provision that remains in this year’s Senate legislation could encounter objections again in the House on constitutional grounds. That provision would allow U.S. citizens to be tried in tribal courts when they commit acts of domestic or sexual abuse on Native American lands.
Aides to Leahy’s House counterpart, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., did not respond to requests for comment Monday about Leahy’s latest bill, or on whether the House panel plans to act on the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization in the near future.
In the meantime, Leahy said he remains committed to guiding the bill through the Senate.
“More than half of the homicides in my home state of Vermont are related to domestic violence,” Leahy said in his Senate floor speech Monday. “While the Judiciary Committee is preparing to consider legislation on the subject of gun violence at the end of the month, the Senate can act now, without delay, to strengthen the protections of the Violence Against Women Act.”
Leahy ended his comments with an anecdote on his time as a local prosecutor to warn of the consequences if the Senate doesn’t act.
“I remember crime scenes from my days as a prosecutor in Vermont,” Leahy said “I still have nightmares about them.”