(S. 1925) On passage of a bill renewing federal anti-domestic violence programs and strengthening protections for American Indians, immigrants, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community
This vote was on passage of legislation that would renew federal anti-domestic violence programs and strengthen protections for American Indians, immigrants, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
The bill would renew the Violence Against Women Act, a law first passed in 1994 to combat domestic and sexual violence. VAWA funds a variety of programs aimed at preventing – and protecting the victims of – domestic violence. Normally a noncontroversial piece of legislation, the renewal of VAWA sparked controversy when Republicans objected to provisions that would provide specific protections for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Republicans also objected to a proposal that would allow tribal governments to prosecute non-Indians suspected of committing rape or a domestic violence-related crime on a reservation. A third flash point was over the bill’s expansion of so-called “U” visas, which are granted to undocumented immigrants who have been victims of abuse.
Supporters of the bill argued that it would allow widely popular and effective anti-violence programs to continue, while strengthening protections for vulnerable groups. Increasing the number of U visas available would provide critical protections to abuse victims who might otherwise be reluctant to come forward and report their abusers, they argued. Meanwhile, the new authority for tribal governments would help put a stop to a situation where non-Indian abusers often escape prosecution, they said. Tribal governments do not have the power to prosecute non-Indians, and federal prosecutors often decline to take up cases on reservations; for example, a Syracuse University study found federal prosecutors passed on more than three-quarters of adult sex cases.
“Domestic and sexual violence continues to occur, and far too many women across the country are victims of these horrible acts,” Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) said. “We have heard from victims, from service providers, and from law enforcement that these crimes can leave victims with lasting emotional and physical scars, while endangering their security, their families, and their lives. This bill will strengthen the Violence Against Women Act and extend its protections to include Native women that are underserved in the current system. This is not an issue that should divide us along partisan lines. On the contrary, it should unite us to take a stand against these awful crimes.”
Opponents of the bill objected to the provisions specifically protecting members of the LGBT community, arguing that the language was unnecessary. They argued that the expansion of visas for undocumented immigrant victims did not include sufficient protections against abuse of the system. For example, individuals applying for the visas did not have to report the crime in a timely fashion and could even have criminal records themselves, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) said.
Opponents also objected to the provisions giving tribal courts authority to prosecute non-Indians, saying the measure may be unconstitutional. And Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) argued that the entire bill represented an overreach of the federal government’s power.
“My opposition to the current VAWA reauthorization is a vote against big government and inefficient spending, and a vote in favor of state autonomy and local control,” Sen. Lee said. “We must not allow a desire by some to score political points and an appetite for federal spending to prevent states and localities from efficiently and effectively serving women and other victims of domestic violence.”
The Senate approved the bill renewing the Violence Against Women Act by a vote of 68-31. Voting “yea” were 53 Democrats and 15 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 31 Republicans. As a result, the Senate approved legislation renewing federal anti-domestic violence programs and strengthening protections for American Indians, immigrants, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. However, to become law, the bill would still need to be approved by the House of Representatives and signed by the president.