12.19.09

Congress Passes Leahy-Backed Package Renewing Violence Against Women Act, Key Law Enforcement Initiatives . . .

Leahy-Authored Provisions Help Rural Communities At A Time When Vermont Sees Rise in Violent Crimes Against Women, And Boost Aid Ceilings For Grants to Law Enforcement Agencies For Bulletproof Vests And For Key Anti-Crime/Anti-Drug Programs

Congress over the weekend overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill negotiated by Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and others renewing the landmark Violence Against Women Act as well as reauthorizing funding for key law enforcement initiatives within the Department of Justice.

The sweeping anti-crime package renews and strengthens key programs to help federal, state and local law enforcement agencies fight crime and to combat violence against women.  The bill also reauthorizes appropriations for the Department of Justice (DOJ) for fiscal years 2006 through 2009.  It also establishes key reporting requirements and other mechanisms intended to better enable the Congress to oversee DOJ operations.  Leahy, a longstanding champion of the needs of rural America, also strengthened programs focused on rural needs, including his earlier program targeting rural domestic violence and crimes that victimize children.  He also succeeded in expanding his earlier grant program that aids victims of domestic violence, who account for more than half of today’s homeless population.

The President is expected to sign the bill into law.

“These are vital programs that help protect millions of Americans and their communities,” said Leahy, a former prosecutor.  “It’s especially important that we have been able to give more tools to our law enforcement officers who are on the front lines against crime and drug abuse.”

Leahy is the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Department of Justice and its anti-crime programs.  Working with Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.), House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), and House Judiciary Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Leahy negotiated key provisions of the package, including:

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT:

n      The Rural Domestic Violence and Child Victimization Enforcement Grant Program: Reauthorizes and expands program that makes services available to rural victims and children by encouraging community involvement in developing a coordinated response to combat domestic violence.  This provision includes new language that expands the program coverage to sexual assault, child sexual assault and stalking.  It also expands eligibility from rural states to rural communities, increasing access to rural sections of otherwise highly populated states.  Since the last reauthorization in 2000, Vermont organizations have received more than $5 million in grants through this program to aid rural areas in treating domestic violence as a serious violation of criminal law.

n      Transitional Housing Assistance Grants: This program authorizes grants for transitional housing and related services for people fleeing domestic violence, sexual assault or stalkers.  At a time when the availability of affordable housing has sunk to record lows, transitional housing for victims is needed now more than ever.  Today more than 50 percent of homeless individuals are women and children fleeing domestic violence. Earlier this year, Leahy announced more than $618,000 in grants to four Vermont organizations to provide transitional housing and related services for individuals who were homeless as a result of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.  This marked the first time that grants under this program have ever been awarded.

DOJ AUTHORIZATION

n      Byrne Formula Grant Program:  Creates a reserve fund this grant program that will give the Attorney General discretion to increase Byrne funding to states, like Vermont, that have been hit hard by prior changes in the Byrne formula and cuts to its overall funding.  States with increasing rates of crime may also receive extra funds.

n      Drug Courts Program:  Provides targeted technical assistance and training by the newly created Community Capacity Development Office.  This Office will consider and respond to the unique needs of rural states, such as Vermont, that wish to implement and enhance drug court systems. 

n      Campbell-Leahy Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program: Extends through 2009 this program which helps local law enforcement agencies afford to equip their officers with life-saving bulletproof vests.

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