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Cantor Pledges Domestic Violence Law Is an Early House Priority

With the Senate poised to pass a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Wednesday vowed that the bill is a priority in his chamber, as well.

Efforts to reconcile the two chambers’ versions of the legislation authorizing domestic violence programs broke down at the end of the previous Congress. But Democratic proponents have been hopeful that because women voters overwhelmingly favored Democrats in November’s elections, Republicans would come around on some of the points of contention in VAWA early this year.

During a House floor colloquy Wednesday, Cantor, R-Va., said that he has been meeting with Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., and has also been in contact with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. about trying to get the parties to bridge their differences on the legislation.

“I have had daily meetings to try and get to a point where we can bring this forward,” Cantor said. “I  . . .  care very deeply about women and the abuse situation. We need to get them the relief that this bill offers. That’s what we want to do. That’s our priority. We must move and act on this bill.”

Despite attacks from Democrats, including a video released this week by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that blames Cantor for holding up the reauthorization bill, the majority leader said Wednesday that he is committed to finding a path forward.

“In working with [Hoyer’s] office as well as the vice president’s, I hope to be able to deal with this, bring it up in an expeditious manner,” Cantor said.

Hoyer, who was on the House floor at the time, thanked Cantor for his work on the issue, adding, “This is a critically important issue, and I am hopeful that we can come to an agreement which will provide for the passage of that piece of legislation and send it to the president.”

The final sticking point on the measure involves domestic abuse that occurs on Indian tribal lands. The Senate bill (S 47), which appears on track for passage on Thursday, allows tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians accused of domestic violence offenses against Indian victims. Many Republicans have protested, however, questioning whether non-Indians’ constitutional rights would be respected in tribal courts.

“We want to protect the women who are subject to abuse on tribal lands,” Cantor explained. “Unfortunately there are issues that don’t directly bear on that that have come up, that have complicated it.”

Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Tom Cole, R-Okla., floated a compromise late last year that would have allowed non-tribal defendants to be tried by tribal courts but would have also allowed such cases to be moved to federal courts if Americans’ rights were seen as being infringed. Issa said Wednesday that a new compromise based on that proposal is close to being finalized.

“We’re doing very well,” Issa said in an interview. “We think we have language that makes sense, that maintains a completely constitutional solution, and that allows battered women on tribal lands to have an opportunity to have that adjudicated on tribal lands. The language we did last Congress will be substantially similar in this Congress.”

The 1994 domestic violence law (PL 103-322) was reauthorized with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2000 and 2005. Besides the tribal lands issue, other controversies erupted during the 112th Congress over the inclusion of new protections for domestic violence victims who are gay and lesbian and immigrants.

Those new protections are included in the current Senate bill, reintroduced by Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho.

Another problem arose last year because the Senate legislation included a revenue increase that was part of a Democratic effort to make more visas available to immigrant victims of domestic abuse. House Republican leaders charged that the provision was unconstitutional, because the Constitution requires all revenue legislation to originate in the House.

This year’s Senate bill scraps that visa revenue provision in an effort to expedite the legislation. By an overwhelming 85-8 vote, the Senate on Monday agreed to proceed to debate on the five-year reauthorization, and Leahy claims wide support.

“Our bill has more than 60 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, and together we can finally finish what we started last year,” Leahy said in a floor statement.

But Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, called the tribal language a “key stumbling block.” He warned that without a compromise, he would offer a substitute measure more appealing to the House.

In a Statement of Administration Policy on the Senate bill, the White House emphasized that it “strongly supports” the tribal lands provision. According to the Justice Department, American Indians are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races, and one in three American Indian women reports having been raped during her lifetime.

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