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Monday, July 26, 2021

House vote to reauthorise, expand Violence Against Women Act

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to reauthorise the lapsed Violence Against Women Act.

The proposal was, however, opposed by most Republicans because of provisions dealing with gun rights and LGBTQ victims’ access to services.

The 244-172 vote sent the measure to the Senate for the second time since the law’s authorisation lapsed in 2019.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, brought up her own family’s history with domestic violence in pushing for passage of the bill at a news conference Wednesday.

Dingell spotlighted sections that would expand provisions in existing law that bar domestic abusers from owning firearms by including some misdemeanors.

“Its not just my story. Its the story of my siblings, and we don’t forget about hiding in closets, or our father taking locks off doors or grabbing a gun from my father so he wouldn’t kill my mother, and being convinced that we will die this time.

“This bill is needed, as guns in volatile situations are dangerous and have devastating consequences,” Dingell said.

More than one in three women have experienced sexual violence during their lifetime, according to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention data.

First passed in 1994, the act enshrines legal protections for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

The original bill was championed by then-Senator Joe Biden, and was reauthorised and updated in 2000, 2005 and 2013.

The House bill would expand victim services and reauthorise for five years grant programmes for the criminal justice response to domestic and sexual violence.

It also includes provisions that would expand housing options for survivors, and allow tribal jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators of sexual violence on tribal lands.

The White House Office of Management and Budget released a statement on Wednesday, saying said that “the administration strongly supports” reauthorising the act.

The OMB statement praised the bill for recognising “the need to provide protection and services to all victims of abuse and includes proposals to strengthen existing policies that were supported by both Democrats and Republicans in 2020.

The Administration urges swift passage of this legislation.

In 2019, the bill received support from 33 House Republicans, and the current version is co-sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick.

Other Republicans, including New York Rep. Elise Stefanik criticised Democrats for moving forward with what they called an overly partisan bill.

Stefanik pointed out that the process shut out the record number of Republican women who joined the chamber after the 2020 election.

Stefanik said Democrats “shunned the bipartisan history of VAWA and advanced a bill filled with controversial provisions, rejecting Republican offers to work in good faith and prioritise the well-being of women and children.

She and others criticised the bill for restricting gun rights, as well as the expansion of LGBT rights.

Representative Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, couched some of his criticism in statements that denied the existence of transgender people, referring to them as “biological males” who would be housed in shelters and prisons.

“It seems to me that many on the left decided that they could use this critical legislation that’s intended to protect women and girls from violence as a vehicle to promote their far-left political agenda,” Chabot said.

Government data does not currently account for nonbinary or transgender people by disaggregating sex from gender.

But existing research suggests transgender people face high rates of intimate partner violence and additional barriers to receiving help.

The Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime points to research that says that half of transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives.

An amendment proposed by GOP Rep. Anne Wagner of Missouri, allowing the attorney-general to bar entities found to have misused VAWA grant funds from participating for five years, was adopted on a 242-174 vote.

Former Representative Katie Hill was at the Capitol for the votes, and her former colleagues adopted an amendment addressing the issue of cyber exploitation, which prompted her resignation in 2019.

The California Democrat resigned after nude images were published without her consent following allegations that she had a relationship with a staff.

A bipartisan amendment that was adopted would establish federal criminal liability for individuals who share “revenge porn”, as this practice was called.

Stefanik offered one of the two Republican amendments that were voted down 177-249, which would have extended the authorisation for just one year.

The chamber adopted more than three dozen bipartisan amendments to the bill en bloc in a 228-197 vote. They included funding for document replacement for victims and protecting the immigration status of domestic violence victims.

The measure now heads to the Senate, where bipartisan talks have already started. Democrats would need Republicans to join them to advance any VAWA proposal to reach the 60 votes required to pass most legislation.

Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski is part of the negotiations, focusing especially on provisions related to tribal rights and the specific needs of indigenous communities.

`I think its critically important that we advance VAWA,’’ she said. (tca/dpa/NAN)

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