WASHINGTON — One day after the Senate voted to renew the Violence Against Women Act, House Democrats urged Republican leaders to act quickly on the bill, which would extend existing protections to immigrants, Native Americans, gays and lesbians.
“This is not a women’s issue,” said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who was flanked by more than 20 House Democrats at a news conference Wednesday. “This is everybody’s issue — every father, every husband, every brother.”
The Senate voted 78-22 Tuesday to renew and update the 19-year old law, which Congress has twice before reauthorized with bipartisan support. The legislation calls for grants to state and local governments to help prosecute abusers and to fund services for victims.
The Senate measure, backed by 23 Republicans, is an attempt to renew a law that was supposed to be reauthorized in 2011. Earlier efforts failed when the House and Senate could not resolve differences over key provisions, putting new programs on hold.
After women favored President Barack Obama 55 percent to 43 percent in November, Democrats hope political pressure will force the GOP to take speedy legislative action. Some House Republicans have already voiced support, sending a letter to the party’s leadership, asking that the bill be brought to a vote.
The bill’s “programs save lives, and we must allow states and communities to build upon the successes of current VAWA programs so that we can help even more people,” they wrote.
So far, House majority leaders have remained mum on how they will proceed with the bill. However, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said last week on the House floor that he is committed to pursuing legislative action.
“You know, I as a gentleman care very deeply about women in the abuse situation, that we need to get them the relief that this bill offers,” Cantor said. “That’s what we want to do, that’s our priority. We must move and act on this bill.”
Some Republicans have objected to a provision of the Senate legislation – granting tribal courts the power to prosecute non-Native American men accused of abusing Native American women on tribal lands. Subjecting them to tribal courts, say some in the GOP, would deprive the suspects of constitutional rights.
But Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., whose district is 25 percent Native American, said Native American women deserve the same protection afforded to other women.
“I’ve experienced firsthand the challenges that our tribal community faces,” said Kirkpatrick, citing the particularly high domestic violence rates on reservations.
Following the successful Senate vote Tuesday, Obama hailed the effort for its bipartisanship.
“It’s now time for the House to follow suit and send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law,” he said in a news release.
Last year, the Senate voted for the first time to expand the law’s protections to same-sex partners, undocumented immigrants and Native Americans. However, those changes faced opposition in the House, and competing versions of the bill were passed. Each chamber refused to accept the other’s legislation.
Supporters credit the law with raising awareness of the problems of domestic violence. Its renewal would authorize $659 million over five years to carry out domestic violence initiatives.