News (USA)

Democrats work to extend gay-inclusive anti-violence bill

WASHINGTON – Congressional Democrats have renewed their push to revive the key federal program that protects women against domestic violence. They sought to diminish Republican objections that blocked passage of the legislation last year by removing a provision that would increase visas for immigrant victims of domestic abuse.

The Violence Against Women Act became law in 1994 and was extended in 2000 and 2005. But it expired in 2011 and, although both the House and Senate passed VAWA bills last year, the two chambers were unable to settle their differences.

“No woman should ever be forced to suffer in silence in the face of abuse, and Democrats are committed to expanding protections for America’s women and giving law enforcement the tools they need to enforce the Violence Against Women Act,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said as dozens of House Democratic women, and several men, gathered Wednesday to reintroduce the legislation.

She said they had 158 Democratic sponsors.

The main points of contention last year were provisions in the Senate-passed bill that increased protections for American Indians, gays and immigrants.

Legislation that was introduced in the Senate Tuesday, and the identical bill House Democrats unveiled Wednesday, retain those protections but remove one provision that would increase what are called U visas available to immigrant victims.

House Republicans last year said that was unconstitutional because the Senate imposed a fee to pay for the visa expansion and all revenue-raising measures must be initiated by the House.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he still supported the visa increase but “we introduce the bill today without that provision in order to remove any excuse for House inaction.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that the Leahy bill, cosponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, will be a legislative priority this year.

The 1994 act provides funding for legal assistance for victims, enforcement of protection orders, transitional housing aid and youth prevention programs. Supporters say the annual incidence of domestic violence has dropped more than 50 percent since VAWA became law.

Obstacles still remain to an agreement. In particular, Republicans have objected to a measure in the Senate-passed bill that would allow Native American courts to prosecute non-Indians accused of committing abuses on Indian land. The House bill that passed last May also omitted Senate references to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.

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