02.04.13

Senate Begins Consideration Of Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act

WASHINGTON (Monday, February 4, 2013) – The Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday night to proceed to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA), bipartisan legislation that provides important protections to victims of domestic and sexual violence. U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), lead author of the bill, said the Senate’s procedural vote Monday was an important first step in advancing the measure.

“Our bill has more than 60 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, and together we can finally finish what we started last year,” Leahy said in a floor statement.  “We are deeply indebted to the women and men around the country who have been working with us and have been steadfast in their commitment to the victims and to our efforts to combat domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault.” Leahy has pushed to make VAWA a top early priority for Senate action in the new 113th Congress.

Leahy joined again with Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) to reintroduce the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act this year. A nearly identical measure passed the Senate last April with 68 votes. The House failed to take up the Leahy-Crapo bill, and as a result the Violence Against Women Act was not reauthorized last year. This year, Senators Leahy and Crapo are working to make sure that a reauthorization bill moves through both chambers and is sent to the president’s desk for signature.

“More than half of the homicides in my home state of Vermont are related to domestic violence,” Leahy said.  “This is simply unacceptable.”

Important provisions from last year’s reauthorization bill, including measures on campus safety, tools to reduce domestic violence homicides, and protections for at-risk groups such as immigrants, tribal victims and members of the LGBT community, are included in this year’s bill. Added to this year’s measure is the SAFER Act, a bill also approved by the Senate last year that provides for audits of untested rape kits.  The improved version now also provides law enforcement the tools and resources they need to help reduce the backlog of rape kits throughout the country. This year’s Leahy-Crapo bill does not include the modest increase in the number of U visas available to immigrant victims passed by the Senate in last year’s bill.  House Republicans objected to taking up the Senate-passed measure last year based on a technical objection to the U visa provision, and Leahy said that setting it aside will give the new VAWA bill a stronger chance of passing both chambers this year.  Leahy intends to work to ensure that the provision passes as part of comprehensive immigration reform instead.

“I remember crime scenes from my days as a prosecutor in Vermont,” Leahy said.  “I still have nightmares about them.  They are being replicated across the country.  Every day that we do not pass legislation that will help to prevent this violence and assist victims, people are suffering.” 

More than 1300 organization support the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. Text of the Leahy-Crapo bill can be found here, and Senator Leahy’s complete floor statement is below.

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

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act Of 2013, S.47

February 4, 2013

I am encouraged that the Senate is turning to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act as one of our very first bills this Congress.  I thank Majority Leader Reid for making this unfinished business a priority for the Senate.  Congressional enactment of our strong, bipartisan bill to help all victims of domestic and sexual violence is overdue. 

Our bill has more than 60 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, and together we can finally finish what we started last year.  We are deeply indebted to the women and men around the country who have been working with us and have been steadfast in their commitment to the victims and to our efforts to combat domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault.

There is a pressing need to update the Violence Against Women Act.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that one in four women has been the victim of severe physical domestic violence, and one in five women has been raped in her lifetime.  More than half of the homicides in my home state of Vermont are related to domestic violence.  This is simply unacceptable.  While the Judiciary Committee is preparing to consider legislation on the subject of gun violence at the end of the month, the Senate can act now, without delay, to strengthen the protections of the Violence Against Women Act.

The provisions in our bill all passed the Senate last year.  Nine months ago, the Senate voted to approve the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act with 68 bipartisan votes.  Last December we worked out with Senator Cornyn and Senator Grassley additional provisions to amend the Debbie Smith Act, which we had passed to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits, in order to provide for additional audits and reporting and increase the capacity of state and local law enforcement to perform DNA analysis.  Those provisions are now incorporated into this VAWA bill.  I hope that Senators who opposed VAWA last year will now join with us in our effort to enact VAWA reauthorization.  We must act quickly and decisively to pass this bill, send it to the House, and, I hope, get it to the President’s desk for his signature into law without further delay.

Our bill will support the use of techniques proven to help identify high-risk cases and prevent domestic violence homicides.  It will increase VAWA’s focus on sexual assault and push colleges to strengthen their efforts to protect students from domestic and sexual violence. This reauthorization will allow us to make real progress in addressing the horrifying epidemic of domestic violence in tribal communities.  A recent study found that almost three in five native women have been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners.  Our bill will allow services to get to those in the LGBT community who have had trouble accessing services in the past.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study last week that found the rates of domestic and sexual violence in these communities are equal to or greater than those in the general population.  The bill also includes key improvements for immigrant victims of domestic and sexual violence.

I noted when we reintroduced this bill at the outset of this year that we will be pressing the increase in U visas for those immigrant victims who assist law enforcement in the context of comprehensive immigration reform.  Last year, the House of Representatives refused to consider the Senate-passed bill because that provision, while fully offset, was seen technically to affect revenues.  We removed it from the bill this year to take away that technical excuse and expedite action on the bill.  I authored that provision and remain strongly committed to the U visa increase.  I intend to press for its inclusion in comprehensive immigration reform legislation that the Judiciary Committee will be considering in the next couple of months.   The increase will be needed later this year.  It will benefit law enforcement and victims, and we should enact it.    

I remember crime scenes from my days as a prosecutor in Vermont.  I still have nightmares about them.  They are being replicated across the country.  Every day that we do not pass legislation that will help to prevent this violence and assist victims, people are suffering. 

I hope all Senators, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, will join with us.  I have spoken often of Senator Crapo’s longstanding commitment to victims.  I appreciate the support of Senator Mikulski, Senator Murkowski, Senator Murray, Senator Klobuchar, Senator Coons, Senator Collins, Senator Shaheen, Senator Franken, Senator Hagan, Senator Casey, and so many others.

I appreciate also the support and assistance of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, and its many member organizations whose insight has been so crucial.  I also thank the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, which has done great work helping victims in Vermont with support from VAWA programs and been a leader in developing and supporting this legislation.  I ask consent to include in the record at the conclusion of my statement a letter organized by the National Task Force and signed by more than thirteen hundred national, state, and local organizations supporting this important bill.

Since we first passed the Violence Against Women Act nearly two decades ago, states have strengthened criminal rape statutes, and every state has made stalking a crime.  The annual incidence of domestic violence has dropped more than 50 percent.  We have helped to provide victims with critical services like housing and legal protection.  We need to remember that behind those numbers are thousands of lives made immeasurably better.

All the provisions in our bill were developed with the help of victims and with those who assist them every day.  They are common sense measures that will help real people.  It is past time for Congress to enact this bill to provide help to victims of domestic violence and rape.  We can make these concrete and important changes in the law.  There is no excuse for delay. 

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