The House of Representatives Thursday voted overwhelmingly to pass the Senate’s bipartisan Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA), sending the bill to President Obama to sign into law — but only after too many months of delay, according to one to top Senate Democrat.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, lead author of the legislation, applauded the House’s move of casting partisanship aside and taking up the consensus, Senate measure. Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and now also is president pro tem of the Senate, successfully pressed to make VAWA a top early priority in the new 113th Congress. Obama himself called for swift resolution for the legislation in his recent State of the Union address.
After rejecting a Republican substitute, the House passed the Leahy-Crapo Senate version of the bill in a vote of 286 to 138.
Dating back to the 1990s, VAWA is designed to offer protection and assistance for victims of domestic violence and other violent crime. The law requires periodic reauthorization, which bogged down over new protections the Senate bill offered gay and lesbian individuals, Alaska Natives, and others.
Leahy, along with the bill’s lead cosponsor Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), earlier this week called on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to bring up the Senate-passed bill rather than act on a partisan measure. The Leahy-Crapo VAWA bill passed the Senate 78-22, with all Democrats, all women and a majority of Republicans supporting the bill. The Senate passed a nearly identical measure last April, which the House failed to consider.
“We made the Violence Against Women Act our top priority this Congress but it should not have taken this long,” Leahy says. “Still, at a time when we face gridlock and stonewalling on even the most compelling issues, I am glad to see that we could find a way to cut through all of that to help victims of violence.”
The Senate measure approved Thursday in the House renews VAWA’s charter another five years, and includes new and vital protections for college students, immigration women, tribal women and members of the gay community. The bill also seeks to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the country, provides needed assistance to law enforcement in prosecuting sexual assault crimes and additionally assists law enforcement in investigating human trafficking crimes by also reauthorizing for four years the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a law that expired in September 2011.
The current VAWA authorization also expired in September 2011, and the bill passed today renews the program’s charter for five years.
“I thank the many Senators and Representatives of both parties who have helped to lead this fight, and the leadership of both Houses who have prioritized moving this vital legislation. Leahy says. “But most of all, I thank the tireless victims, advocates, and service providers who have given so much of themselves to ensure that this legislation would pass and that, when it did, it would make a real difference. Lives will be better because of their work and because of this law.”