Leahy: Republican VAWA Bill A Poor Substitute For Victims

[The Senate is currently debating the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, a bipartisan bill authored by Senator Patrick Leahy that has a total of 62 cosponsors. Senator Leahy Thursday afternoon spoke out against the Republican alternative to the bipartisan VAWA bill, noting it does not include needed protections for underserved communities and does not respond to the needs of local domestic violence providers.]

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Amendment 14 to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act Of 2013, S.47

 The Republican substitute bill being offered by the Senator from Iowa does not meet the needs of victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.  Respectfully, I must say it is a poor substitute for the bipartisan Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act we developed over the last two years that has 62 bipartisan Senate Cosponsors.  I urge Senators to vote against it.

The Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act already reflects many efforts we have undertaken to address the concerns of Senator Grassley and to meet Republican members halfway, and to accommodate them where we could.  Our bill includes significant new accountability provisions modeled on language Senator Grassley had us include in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. 

Our bill significantly reduces authorization levels to all programs. This is the first time a reauthorization reduced authorization levels, and we do so by almost 20 percent.  Our bill consolidates and streamlines 13 programs.  Our bill limits the percentage of grants that organizations can use for planning purposes.   In drafting our bill, we eliminated several provisions that Senator Grassley indicated were problematic.  We took these steps in an effort to work together to pass a bipartisan bill.

The proposed substitute bill would remove fundamental points of fairness that are at the core of this legislation. We need to cover everyone who experiences domestic and sexual violence in this country.  No exceptions.

About three and a half years ago, the Congress finally adopted the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act which protected those targeted with violence in a similar way to what we are considering today.  We should not retreat from that position when we are addressing domestic and sexual violence.

The Republican substitute abandons VAWA’s historic emphasis on abuse of women.  Women are still more often the victims of domestic and sexual violence with more catastrophic results.  The Republican substitute not only fails women, it also fails to guarantee that services will actually reach those victims who have in the past been unable to access them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

We should listen to those on the front lines of these tragedies who have told us about underserved communities needing protection.  We should respond to law enforcement when they tell us about the importance of the U visa program, which enables them to take dangerous people off the street.  We should not adopt the measures included in the Republican substitute that would make it more difficult for victims to apply for U visas.  The Republican substitute would abandon our provisions that address domestic and sexual violence in tribal areas, which has reached epidemic proportions with rates of victimization far exceeding those in the general population.  Taking money from other Justice Department programs to impose Federal judges and prosecutors on Indian lands is costly, unworkable and a non-solution to the problem.  The bipartisan reauthorization bill, by contrast, takes the approach recommended by our Committee on Indian Affairs.   We include local, community-based approaches to domestic violence that have worked so well in so many VAWA programs.  Federal prosecutors already have authority to prosecute on these lands and have not solved the problem.  Federal judges have plenty to do and our Federal courts are stretched thin with 83 current vacancies.  Giving tribes the authority to prosecute those who commit violence against Indian victims on Indian land is a better and less costly solution than bringing in large numbers of Federal officials to Indian country. 

All these differences are in the wrong direction and would result in leaving victims out.

The Grassley substitute also includes costly and inefficient bureaucratic provisions that could cripple the delivery of needed services to victims and tie up the work of the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General.

In contrast to the Republican substitute, the bipartisan VAWA reauthorization bill responds to the needs we have heard from the professionals, including law enforcement, who work every day to help victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.  No one I have worked with has identified Federal sentencing as an area requiring changes.  The sentencing provisions in this substitute, which include mandatory minimum sentences, are unnecessary and counterproductive.  In fact, leading sexual assault advocacy groups like the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence oppose mandatory minimum sentences because they have a chilling effect on reporting and prosecution of sexual assaults.  The sentencing provisions in the substitute make victims and, by extension, our communities less safe.

We should not include extraneous provisions, as this substitute does, that have nothing to do with domestic violence or sexual assault.  Comprehensive immigration reform is coming before us.  The Judiciary Committee is hard at work on that.   Proposals to change deportations may be appropriate in the context of comprehensive immigration reform.  They have nothing to do with VAWA.  Yet they are included in the Republican substitute.  And when a provision of that type was included in the measure last year, its author nonetheless opposed VAWA reauthorization.  It can be considered with comprehensive immigration reform, not here. 

Every previous reauthorization of VAWA has contained new protections for immigrants and underserved communities. Our bill builds on that foundation with changes that are modest and widely supported.  

The Republican substitute would gut core provisions of our bipartisan legislation that we all know we need and that professionals in the field tell us are needed.  I thank Senator Klobuchar and Senator Durbin for their excellent statements in opposition and urge all Senators to oppose the substitute and support the bipartisan Violence Against Women Reauthorization  Act.

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