House Republicans released their version of the Violence Against Women Act on Friday and are poised to fast-track it to a floor vote next Tuesday during a Rules Committee hearing.
The House GOP’s legislation doesn’t go as far as the reauthorization that passed the Senate on an overwhelming bipartisan vote earlier this month. It reflects some movement in that direction but falls short of a breakthrough on the central disputes that scuttled reauthorization of VAWA last year, namely, coverage for gay, Native American and illegal immigrant women. Democrats quickly rejected the bill and advocates against domestic violence expressed concerns with it.
“The House is expected to take up a strong Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization next week so we can protect all women from acts of violence and help law enforcement prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law,” said Megan Whittemore, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who helped craft the bill.
Unlike the Senate-passed version, the House GOP’s proposed legislation does not explicitly guarantee equal coverage for gay and lesbian victims of domestic violence, and it would create a hurdle for tribal courts to prosecute non-Native Americans charged with assaulting women on tribal lands. It also includes stricter criteria for abused illegal immigrants to gain legal status.
According to the text of the proposed House bill, VAWA would be expanded to provide assistance to “adult and youth victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.” Although Whittemore said the goal is to include “all women” who suffer from domestic abuse, the nation’s top gay rights organization said LGBT families would not be fully protected.
“The bill does not protect LGBT victims from discrimination by a service provider nor does it specifically include services to LGBT victims as an underserved population,” said David Stacy, deputy legislative director for Human Rights Campaign, after reviewing the language. “The Senate bill provisions are urgently needed so that actual resources are available to address domestic violence and sexual assault among LGBT families.”
A House Republican leadership aide flatly rejected that characterization. “We are not allowing anyone to be discriminated against,” the aide said. The difference is how we go about it. Our bill is broad. They’re enumerating actual categories of people that are covered. And that requires constant updating. We’re giving the states the resources they need, and we’re also making sure no one is discriminated against.”
Pat Reuss, adviser to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, said “we suspect it will leave out a whole lot of victims.” Jess McIntosh, a spokeswoman for EMILY’s List, said it was “lighter on protecting women than the bipartisan Senate version.”
Under the proposed legislation, tribal courts would have to first receive certification from the U.S. attorney general that it would protect the defendant’s constitutional rights in any domestic violence proceedings, according to a GOP summary.
The proposed bill also holds that undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence can only be eligible for legal status if federal or local officials certify that it would help investigate or prosecute criminal activity.
Last year’s reauthorization bill that passed the GOP-controlled House on a party line vote provided no mechanism for coverage of Native American women. It provided narrower protections than the new proposal for illegal immigrant women. While interest groups are still reviewing the new proposal for its impact on LGBT victims, the House GOP went out of his way to emphasize that the bill provides protection for “all women.”
The bill will be sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the most senior Republican woman in the House. The text and summary are available below.
Earlier this month, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize VAWA, which expired in 2011 but has continued to receive funding through the appropriations process. Originally passed in 1994, it has not been updated since 2005.
“Majority Leader Cantor is committed to ending violence against all women and reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act,” said Whittemore, his spokeswoman. “He has worked hard to build consensus with members on both sides of the aisle and worked alongside advocate groups to put together the strongest possible bill.”
Kim Gandy, president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said the GOP legislation falls short.
“We were extremely hopeful that House leadership would introduce a bill that would safely and effectively meet the needs of all victims,” Gandy said. “Unfortunately, the House substitute introduced today fails to do so.”
This article has been updated since publication.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.