02.25.13

Leahy: House VAWA Bill A Poor, Partisan Alternative

. . . House GOP Bill ‘mires our efforts in partisan politics’

WASHINGTON – Nearly two weeks after the Senate overwhelmingly passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called on the House of Representatives to put aside partisan politics and act in the same bipartisan manner to pass this important legislation.

Leahy’s comments on the floor came as the House is poised to begin consideration of a Republican alternative to VAWA that omits vital protections and bipartisan provisions that were included in the Senate bill. Leahy called on the House to change course and take up the Senate bill supported by all Democratic Senators and a majority of Republican Senators.

“In contrast to our actions in the Senate, House leadership is poised to once again take a different route,” Leahy said.  “Tomorrow, they are scheduled to substitute our bipartisan bill with a partisan alternative that leaves vulnerable victims without protection and mires our efforts in partisan politics, which will delay getting help to victims.  I hope they reconsider this ill-conceived approach.”

The Senate bill, cosponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and supported by more than 1300 domestic and sexual violence organization, includes protections for immigrants, Native American women, members of the LGBT community and college students. The Senate voted overwhelmingly to support Leahy’s amendment to add meaningful protections for trafficking victims and strengthen efforts to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the country. The House measure either completely ignores or strongly waters down these meaningful protections that were the result of strong consultation with victims and law enforcement officials.

Leahy noted that private efforts to work with House Republican leaders on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act have so far gone unmet.  He reiterated those efforts publicly and called on House GOP leaders to listen to their membership, and more importantly, victims throughout the country by working to pass a measured and bipartisan Violence Against Women Act reauthorization without further delay.

“I stand ready to work with House leadership and have reached out to Speaker Boehner several times.  I have not heard from House leadership once this year,” Leahy said.  “I appreciate the efforts of some conservative House Republicans like Congressmen Tom Cole and Darrell Issa, who have tried to find common ground with reasonable compromise approaches to the tribal provisions.  I know there are many others in the House of Representatives who believe that we must reauthorize and reinvigorate the Violence Against Women Act so that it protects all victims.  It is not too late for others in the House to follow their lead and come together to pass a meaningful reform that protects all victims.”

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, S.47
February 25, 2013

Two weeks ago, the Senate showed that it can still be the conscience of our nation when Senators voted overwhelmingly to pass the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.  The Senate made protection of these victims our top priority.  After compromise and extensive negotiations, we set partisanship aside and came together.

The Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act will provide immeasurable help to all victims of domestic violence and of rape throughout our country and to victims of human trafficking in the United States and around the world.  The Senate passed it with an appropriate show of bipartisan unity.  A majority of Republican Senators voted for our bill, as did every woman elected to this body and every Democratic Senator.  My amendment adding significant human trafficking legislation passed with the support of 93 Senators.

Senators from across the political spectrum have shown that stopping domestic and sexual violence in the most effective way possible is an issue above politics.  In contrast to our actions in the Senate, House leadership is poised to once again take a different route.  Tomorrow, they are scheduled to substitute our bipartisan bill with a partisan alternative that leaves vulnerable victims without protection and mires our efforts in partisan politics, which will delay getting help to victims.  I hope they reconsider this ill-conceived approach.

The overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate for the VAWA reauthorization Senator Crapo and I introduced sent a powerful message to survivors of violence.  But this bill is about so much more than sending a message.  It includes real, meaningful additions to the law to fill gaps and address needs that law enforcement, victims, and the service providers who work with victims every day have identified for us.  None of these provisions are about politics.  They are about preventing terrible crimes and helping the survivors of violence.

The Senate-passed bill takes new steps to prevent domestic violence homicides.  It will increase the focus of law enforcement and victim service providers on rape and sexual assault crimes that too often slip through the cracks.  It will take needed steps to address the horrifying epidemic of domestic violence in tribal communities and to increase protections for vulnerable immigrant victims.  It ensures access to services for LGBT victims who experience domestic and sexual violence at rates at least as high as the rest of the population but often have no place to go for help. 

Our bill strengthens protections on campuses, where too many students experience devastating violence instead of the wonderful experience of learning and growth that we all wish for our children.  It includes new bipartisan measures to ensure that rape kits are promptly tested so that victims no longer live for years in fear when the perpetrators could be identified and taken off the streets.  Our bill would give law enforcement and service providers new tools to crack down on sex trafficking and labor trafficking and help the victims of these appalling crimes.  These common sense provisions will make a real difference in so many lives.

The poor substitute the Republican House leadership is putting forward once again takes a tragically different approach.  Instead of taking up legislation developed over years of work with victims and those who help them, they have presented a version put together by a few here in Washington.  For reasons I cannot understand, they have jettisoned the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act altogether and stripped provisions developed by Senator Cornyn, Senator Grassley, and me to take meaningful steps to reduce the backlog of untested DNA evidence in rape kits.  Those provisions could help victims and could help law enforcement keep our communities safe.

The House substitute drastically weakens protections for vulnerable victims.  It eliminates key protections intended to keep college students safer.  It fails to include meaningful language to ensure that LGBT victims can get the same help as any other victims.  For immigrant victims, the House substitute actually adds new hurdles that would make it harder for victims to help law enforcement and receive assistance.  It adds new burdens and loopholes to protections for Native women who experience domestic violence at horrific rates.  The House substitute would continue to allow the most aggressive abusers of native women to escape justice since the most that could be charged in tribal courts would a misdemeanor.  That is not justice for the most vulnerable victims of domestic violence.

I have been working on this legislation for years.  During the last year we have amended and tweaked its language many times to accommodate the requests of various Republicans who support the effort.  I stand ready to work with House leadership and have reached out to Speaker Boehner several times.  I have not heard from House leadership once this year.  I appreciate the efforts of some conservative House Republicans like Congressmen Tom Cole and Darrell Issa, who have tried to find common ground with reasonable compromise approaches to the tribal provisions.  I know there are many others in the House of Representatives who believe that we must reauthorize and reinvigorate the Violence Against Women Act so that it protects all victims.  It is not too late for others in the House to follow their lead and come together to pass a meaningful reform that protects all victims.

The poor substitute the Republican House leadership is proposing will disappoint the community of violence survivors and those of us who are trying to prevent further violence by passing needed protections.  If the House leadership is serious about getting the Violence Against Women Act reauthorized and protecting our most vulnerable victims of rape, domestic violence, stalking and human trafficking, they will simply take up the Senate-passed bill that so many Republicans supported and pass it.

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