Senate Approves Bill to Reauthorize Violence Against Women ActWASHINGTON — A measure that would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act was approved by the Senate on Thursday with broad bipartisan support, despite some Republican objections to key provisions.
By: Rosalind S. Helderman, The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — A measure that would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act was approved by the Senate on Thursday with broad bipartisan support, despite some Republican objections to key provisions.
After the 68-31 Senate vote, the battle over those differences will now move to the House, where Republicans are pushing an alternative version of the bill.
Democrats have tried in recent weeks to paint Republican objections as reflecting a lack of concern about issues that are important to women, who will be a key target group in the fall elections. President Barack Obama holds a significant advantage among the group over presumptive GOP challenger Mitt Romney, according to opinion polls. By Thursday, many Republicans were insisting that they want the bill to pass quickly, despite their concerns.
GOP leaders had urged the Democrats who control floor action to allow votes on a Republican-sponsored alternative to the bill, as well as an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) that would earmark money for testing a backlog of rape kits and impose new mandatory minimum sentences for perpetrators of some domestic violence crimes. Both of those measures failed Thursday.
The Senate bill was crafted in consultation with law-enforcement groups and victims advocates and was introduced with a filibuster-proof 61 co-sponsors, including eight Republicans.
Democrats believed that margin gave Republicans who oppose the measure little leverage to demand votes on amendments that were likely to fail.
They objected to Cornyn's proposal because some advocates think that requiring judges to impose harsh mandatory sentences on abusers can sometimes discourage victims from reporting the crimes.
First enacted in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized in 2000 and in 2005. The measure funds grant programs to assist victims and help law enforcement officials to identify and prosecute cases of domestic abuse and sexual violence.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), one of eight Republican co-sponsors, said the bill is the result of "thousands of hours" of work by domestic-violence advocates.
"I do believe it represents a real improvement in the services offered to victims, even in a difficult budget environment," she said.
But other Republicans objected to a number of the measure's new provisions. One would add language that bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in programs funded through the measure.
Another would let law enforcement officials issue up to 5,000 more visas each year to battered illegal immigrants who agree to participate in the prosecution of serious crimes. The 2000 update of the law set aside 10,000 visas annually for that purpose, which advocates say encourages victims to report crime. All 10,000 are being issued each year, and advocates say more are needed.