June 01, 2012

Push is on this month to reauthorize VAWA

As the push intensifies this month for passage of legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), June 26 has been designated as a National Day of Action on the issue.

The Senate-passed version of the legislation, S. 1925, is supported by the ABA. The bill, in addition to extending existing programs, would add uniform nondiscrimination provisions that would for the first time provide inclusive language to ensure that victims seeking assistance cannot be denied services based on gender identity or sexual orientation as well as race, color, religion, national origin, sex or disability. The bill also would strengthen tribal criminal jurisdiction over individuals who assault Native American spouses and dating partners in Indian country. Another provision would make available previously issued but unused visas to illegal immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

The association opposes H.R. 4970, the House-passed version of the legislation, calling the bill “a retreat from the battle against domestic and sexual violence.” In a May 14 letter to all members of the House prior to floor debate on H.R. 4970, ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III said the bill fails to incorporate critical improvements to address the needs of underserved populations, such as victims who are members of faith communities and those who are denied services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

H.R. 4970 also would undermine protections available to vulnerable immigrant victims of violence by creating obstacles for immigrant victims seeking to report crimes and increasing the danger to victims by eliminating important confidentiality provisions, Robinson wrote.

Progress toward a conference committee on the two versions of the legislation was stalled earlier this month over the effect of provisions related to the availability of additional U visas. Some members of the House maintain that this provision constitutes a revenue-raising bill that is required to originate in the House.

Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) urged House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) June 12 to affirm the House’s commitment to combating domestic violence by having an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill.

“We are concerned that unnecessary political and procedural posturing is breaking the bipartisan consensus on an issue that should rise above such considerations, and is creating an unconscionable delay that further threatens victims of violence,” they wrote.

Boehner’s office declined the request but said the House is ready to go to conference to resolve the differences between the two version of the legislation. 

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