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House, Senate Clash on Domestic Violence Bill

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers speaks during the House Republicans’ news conference on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act today. Behind her are (from left) Reps. Sandy Adams, Kristi Noem, Vicky Hartzler and Ann Marie Buerkle.

Noem comes from a state with a significant Native American population, and she said, “We are checking out and doing some more research on” whether Native Americans would need any additional provisions in the bill.

Her comments came as Senate Democrats argued today that the Native American provisions are needed, as well as the other provisions opposed by Republicans.

“Every time we have reauthorized this bill, we included bipartisan provisions to address those that are not being protected ... today,” said Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), who chairs the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm. “However, for some reason this time some of our colleagues would like to pick and choose who qualifies for this assistance.”

Murray said that Democrats included the provisions because “we have decided in 2012 that we as a country need to be more inclusive when it comes to protecting and providing these services for all women affected by violence.”

She dismissed criticism from Republicans that Democrats were seeking political gain from the proposal.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who spoke at the news conference with Murray, said that although the measure is not intended to exclude any woman, in practice Native American, illegal immigrant, and lesbian and transgendered women often are.   

“What this bill does is it makes it very, very clear” that no one can be excluded, Boxer said.

Under the Senate bill, tribes would be the authority to hold offenders accountable for their crimes against Native American women, regardless of the perpetrator’s race. Currently, tribes cannot punish non-Indian men who batter their wives.

The bill also would give battered undocumented women temporary visas to encourage them to come forward. The current cap for U visas given to crime victims is 10,000, but that could be increased to 15,000 by using visas unclaimed since 2006.

The bill also would update nondiscrimination policies for grantees to add the terms “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.”

With 61 co-sponsors, including eight Republicans, the measure is expected to pass in the Senate. But first the Senate must decide whether to allow Republicans to offer amendments to the proposal.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) want the opportunity to offer a substitute that would address GOP concerns with the bill.

But given the filibuster-proof number of Senators who have already committed to the bill as written, Democratic leaders may not be inclined to allow any amendments. A Senate Democratic leadership aide said no final decision on the issue has been made.

Boxer said she hopes there is not a long amendment process.

“When you have a bill that has a filibuster-proof number of co-sponsors ... I would hope we wouldn’t have to have a series of amendments,” she said.

The traditionally bipartisan bill was first signed into law in 1994 and was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. VAWA supports specialized law enforcement units to investigate domestic violence crimes. Since the passage of the act, annual incidents of domestic violence have dropped by more than 60 percent, according to supporters.

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