Leahy: VAWA Reauthorization Addresses Unmet Needs Of Victims

WASHINGTON (Monday, April 23, 2012) – The Senate is set to consider legislation to reauthorize the landmark Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act later this week, and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is urging the Senate to pass the bipartisan legislation. 

Leahy has been pressing for consideration of the legislation since the Judiciary Committee approved the bill in February.  The legislation is cosponsored by a total of 61 Senators.  A comprehensive Committee Report was filed earlier this year.

This week also marks Crime Victims’ Rights Week.  For years, Leahy has led bipartisan congressional efforts to protect the Crime Victims Fund, which was established through the 1984 Victims of Crime Act, to provide support for crime victims and their families.  The monies allocated through the Crime Victims Fund are raised through fines and penalties paid by federal criminal offenders, not taxpayer dollars.

“In the spirit of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, our VAWA reauthorization bill takes steps to recognize victims whose needs are not being served and find ways to help them,” said Leahy.  “This approach is not radical or extreme.  The fact that the bill reaches more victims should not be a basis for partisan division.  It should be a fact that is celebrated.  This is what the Violence Against Women Act has always done and what I have tried to do for crime victims for many years.”

The White House today released a Statement of Administration Policy strongly supporting the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.  The legislation would further strengthen and improve programs authorized under the landmark law to assist victims and survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.  The reauthorization bill includes an increased focus on sexual assault, including the addition of new purpose areas to support the efforts of sexual assault coalitions working in the states and provisions to help reduce rape kit backlogs.

Leahy spoke on the Senate floor Monday evening.  The full text of his prepared remarks follows.

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),

Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary,

On National Crime Victims’ Rights Week

April 23, 2011

Today marks the beginning of the 31st annual National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.  It is a time to recognize the losses faced by victims of crime and their families and acknowledge the efforts being made to help them recover and rebuild their lives in the wake of tragedy.  It is a time to reflect on all that we have accomplished and focus on what more we must do to help victims.

One of our best tools for delivering that help is the Crime Victims Fund.  Unfortunately, in recent months, some have sought to violate the Victims of Crime Act to take money from this trust fund for purposes and programs not authorized by the Victims of Crime Act.  Working with Senators from both sides of the aisle, we have been able to stop this raid on crime victims funding.  I, again, want to commend Senator Mikulski and Senator Hutchison, the chair and ranking members of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, for their important efforts in this regard in the appropriations bill we reported to the Senate last week.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has reported a bill that preserves the Crime Victims Fund and we succeeded in increasing the funding next year for victims’ compensation and assistance to $775 million.  To be able to increase Federal assistance by $70 million from last year’s cap is extraordinary in these economic times, and an indication of our commitment to crime victims. This is a matter on which I have worked with Senator Crapo as well as Senator Mikulski over the years, and I appreciate their leadership in this effort.   

The money in the Crime Victims Fund comes from penalties and fines.  It comes from wrongdoers not from taxpayers.  Not a dime of taxpayer money goes into the Crime Victims Fund.  That is how we designed it.  We created it as a trust fund for crime victims’ needs and services.  I have tried to respect the trust fund and to protect it, to ensure that it is used and available for crime victims and their families who depend on its support in times of need.  

As states are forced to tighten their belts, victim services are being cut all over the country. Without the Federal assistance from this trust fund, victims’ compensation programs and victims’ assistance programs and services would be unavailable to many. 

Another important law that strengthens crime victims’ rights and improves crime victims’ services is currently pending before the Judiciary Committee. The Justice For All Reauthorization Act strengthens the rights guaranteed to crime victims in the criminal justice process and ensures that basic services, like the rapid testing of rape kits, help victims receive the justice, safety and closure they deserve.  I look forward to working with Senators from both sides of the aisle to move that legislation forward, as well.

Currently pending before the Senate is the Majority Leader’s motion to proceed to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, S.1925.  This is legislation that I introduced with Senator Crapo last year.  We have 61 bipartisan cosponsors.  When we enacted the Violence Against Women Act nearly 18 years ago, it sent a powerful message that we will not tolerate crime against women and forever altered the way our Nation combats domestic and sexual violence. Our legislation offers support to the victims of these terrible crimes and helps them find safety and rebuild their lives.  The bill we will debate this week is based on the recommendations of victims and the tireless professionals who work with them every day.  April is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month and our bill takes the important step of focusing increased attention on sexual assaults, including those against the most vulnerable among us.

As I listened to Senator Murray and Senator Feinstein and Senator Shaheen and Senator Gillibrand, and after I spoke with Senator Hagan last week about the pending motion to proceed to the VAWA reauthorization legislation, I thought how fortunate we are to serve with them and with Senators Mikulski, Boxer, Snowe, Landrieu, Collins, Stabenow, Cantwell, Murkowski, McCaskill, Klobuchar, and Ayotte.  In fact, 16 women Senators are cosponsors of our Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, and their input has strengthened this critical legislation.  I appreciate their strong bipartisan support for this measure and their willingness to speak out time and again on the need to pass this bill without delay.

We recently honored the senior Senator from Maryland for her service as the longest-serving woman Senator and as the women who has also served the longest in Congress.  I can remember back before 1993, when Senator Carol Mosely Braun became the first woman to serve as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  We are fortunate now to have both Senator Feinstein and Senator Klobuchar as active members of our Committee. 

I remember when nine woman Senators joined together to contribute to the book “Nine and Counting” about their paths to the United States Senate.  These strong women have served as roles models for many young women and girls.  Even as Senator Clinton has gone on to become Secretary of State and there have been other changes, six of the nine Senators who were the subjects of that book in 2001 serve with us today.  They have been joined by nine additional women Senators from around the country.  “Nine and Counting” was a title looking to the future. Today, 17 women serve in the United States Senate.  Sixteen of them have joined from both sides of the aisle to bring their leadership and their strong support to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. 

Our bill includes a number of provisions they have championed and suggested.  To mention one example, our bill includes the provisions that Senator Klobuchar and Senator Hutchison had suggested and introduced as the Stalkers Act of 2011.  That provision is new to VAWA.  It would not have been included had we chosen to introduce a one sentence reauthorization, rather than a comprehensive bill which makes much needed improvements to VAWA.  I thought it was a good provision, intended to update the Federal anti-stalking statute to capture more modern forms of communication that perpetrators use to stalk their victims.

In the spirit of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, our VAWA reauthorization bill takes steps to recognize victims whose needs are not being served and find ways to help them.  This approach is not radical or extreme.  The fact that the bill reaches more victims should not be a basis for partisan division.  It should be a fact that is celebrated.  This is what the Violence Against Women Act has always done and what I have tried to do for crime victims for many years.  Like past reauthorization bills, this bill reaches out to help more victims by taking responsible and moderate steps, in this case to protect immigrant and Native women, and ensuring services to victims regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

At the same time, we recognize the difficult economic times and the need to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent responsibly.  That is why the bill consolidates 13 programs into four in an effort to reduce duplication and bureaucratic barriers.  It cuts the authorization level for VAWA by more than $135 million a year, a decrease of nearly 20 percent from the last reauthorization. We will still provide sufficient authority to fund VAWA programs at over

$400 million a year, which is consistent with the funding level provided in the appropriations bill for the coming year.  Our legislation also includes significant accountability provisions, including audit requirements, enforcement mechanisms, and restrictions on grantees and costs.

Since its introduction last November, more than 700 state and national organizations have written us to endorse the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act and push for its passage.  Last week, the mayors of three of the Nation’s largest cities – New York, Chicago and Los Angeles – wrote to the Senate urging passage of this VAWA reauthorization.  We have heard from 47 State Attorneys General, urging Senate passage of this legislation.  That is because they recognize that this Federal law is meaningful, and that this reauthorization addresses the ongoing, unmet needs of victims in their states.  I ask consent that these letters be placed in the Record at the conclusion of my statement.

Today we received the official statement of support from the Administration.  I ask that the Statement of Administrative Position also be included in the Record at the end of my statement.

I am glad that the Senate may finally be moving to this bill and this week is a good week to pass it.  The last two reauthorizations of VAWA passed the Senate unanimously.  This is an issue that should transcend partisanship.  Let us work together to pass VAWA reauthorization this week.

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