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May 16, 2019

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Threatened

One of the most popular federal policies aimed at ending violence is in danger due in part to the government shutdown of 2018–2019.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), one of the most popular federal policies aimed at ending domestic violence, originally expired on September 30, 2018. It received a temporary extension as part of the short-term spending bill but expired shortly thereafter on February 15, 2019. Now, partisan fighting over recent amendments threaten to bring reauthorization efforts to a standstill.

Originally established in 1994 by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act to aid in preventing violent crime, VAWA responds to the needs of victims, provides tools for holding offenders accountable, and sets up measures for data collection to learn more about these crimes. VAWA has been reauthorized in a bipartisan manner several times since its inception, with the most recent occasion in 2013.

On April 4, the House of Representatives passed The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019 (H.R. 1585) by a vote of 263 – 158, with 33 Republicans joining Democrats in the affirmative. This bipartisan Act would extend VAWA for five years, and adds several provisions aimed at expanding the Act’s scope. One of the more controversial provisions includes extending the longstanding prohibition against gun possession for perpetrators of domestic violence, to include dating violence and stalking. Even though the authorization expired, VAWA programs are funded at their highest level ever at $559 million through this fiscal year. The House Appropriations Chair released their proposal for the FY 2020 appropriation which provides over $582 million for VAWA programs. If the House passes the proposal, this provision would still need Senate action. 

The legislation expands the definition of domestic violence used for grant-funded services and broadens tribal criminal jurisdiction. The bill also requires the Director for the Centers for Disease Control to submit a report on best practices related to rape prevention and education in addition to outlining the activities funded by the grants.

The Senate is not expected to pass the House version of the legislation due to partisan differences. These differences have centered largely around process disputes and disagreements on provisions including firearms and civil rights protections. We expect the Senate to release its version of the VAWA reauthorization soon. The ABA has been working closely with congressional staff to try to find common ground on the controversial portions of the Act while preserving the strides we have made thus far on tribal enforcement and anti-discrimination protections. The ABA continues to encourage Congress to swiftly reauthorize VAWA in a manner that enhances legal tools to combat violence.  

If you would like to receive more information on VAWA reauthorization and/or assist the ABA in advocating on it, please visit the Grassroots Action Center and register for the Grassroots Action Team here.