06.04.12

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act Of 2012

Statement As Prepared For Delivery

It has been more than a month since the Senate came together to pass the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2012.  Our bill reflects VAWA’s tradition of bringing together people from both political parties to work with the professionals in the field and address the needs of all victims.  More than two-thirds of the Senate, including 15 Republicans, voted for this common sense legislation.  That is a rare feat in the Senate today, and it demonstrates that our Leahy-Crapo reauthorization bill is about saving lives, not partisan politics.

Few laws have had a greater impact on the lives of women in this country than the Violence Against Women Act.  Because of this law, the days of dismissing domestic and sexual violence crimes with a joke or a shrug are over.  The resources, training, and law enforcement tools provided by VAWA over the past 18 years have transformed the criminal justice and community-based responses to abuse.  It gave support and protection to victims who for generations had been blamed, humiliated, and ignored.

I had hoped that House Republicans would follow our demonstration of bipartisanship by supporting the Senate VAWA reauthorization bill.  Instead, the House Republican leadership chose to proceed with a bill that does not reflect the core values of VAWA.  The House Republican bill does not include protections for all victims.  And it specifically takes away existing protections that have proven effective in preventing domestic and sexual violence.  In short, the House bill is not VAWA. 

Regrettably, the House Republican leadership would not even allow a vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan bill that does the job.  They would not allow open debate regarding the relative merits of the different versions of the bill, ours that protects all victims and theirs, which rolls back protections.   Had the House had the opportunity to vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan bill, I believe it would now be law.  Nearly two dozen House Republicans along with most Democratic members voted against the restrictive House bill. 

It is not surprising that the House Republican bill failed to gain support among those who work with victims on a daily basis. When challenged on the House floor to name any law enforcement or victim advocacy organization that supported the House Republican bill, their lead sponsor could not name a single one.  In fact, more than 320 organizations that work with the victims of domestic and sexual violence opposed the bill.  

By contrast more than 1,000 local, state and national organizations supported the bipartisan Senate bill, including hundreds of law enforcement, victim advocate, and faith-based groups.  Our bill was crafted after months of discussions with stakeholders from across the country and from all political persuasions.  The provisions in our bill that protect battered immigrant women, Native women and the most vulnerable among us who have had trouble accessing services were recommendations from the professionals who work with crime victims every day.  The bipartisan Senate bill is intended to respond to the changing, unmet needs of victims and to prevent future acts of domestic and sexual violence. 

It was law enforcement who educated us on the importance of the U visa to keeping our streets safe and encouraged us to support a modest improvement to this program.  The enhanced consultation provisions in the bill were included after domestic and sexual assault coalitions and other victim advocacy groups told us that they wanted to coordinate their activities in a more effective way with VAWA state administrators and Federal agencies.  Victim service providers also told us that the LGBT community experiences violence at the same rate as the broader community but faces a serious lack of available services.   It was the Native American community that informed us about the epidemic of domestic violence in tribal communities and the need to increase local prosecution of these crimes.  It is unacceptable that nearly three out of five Native American women have been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners, yet the percentage of these cases that are prosecuted is appallingly low.  That is why our bill provides law enforcement with additional tools to combat domestic and sexual assault in Tribal communities.

The Senate has already considered and soundly defeated a conscripted version of the bill, like the House Republicans’ version, that would not help all victims.  We voted 37 to 62 against the Hutchison-Grassley amendment last April.  This was not a case where an amendment did not obtain a supermajority of more than 60 votes.  Indeed, the votes against it were bipartisan and more than 60.  I do not understand why the House Republican leadership has gone to tremendous lengths to avoid debating and voting on the bipartisan Senate-passed VAWA reauthorization bill.

 The House Republican leadership has refused to consider two House bills that mirror the Leahy-Crapo bill, including one introduced by a Republican.  They also raised a procedural technicality as an excuse to avoid debating the Senate bill, even though the Speaker of the House can waive the technicality and allow the House to move forward to consider the bipartisan Senate bill.

The Majority Leader tried to move us forward two weeks ago by proposing a way to resolve the technical objection by House Republicans to considering the bipartisan Senate-passed bill.  Unfortunately the Republican leader objected.

Victims should not be forced to wait any longer.  They will not benefit from the improvements made by the Senate bill unless both houses of Congress vote to pass this legislation.  The problems and barriers facing victims of domestic and sexual violence are too serious for Congress to delay.  Domestic and sexual violence knows no political party.  Its victims are Republican and Democrat, rich and poor, young and old.  Helping these victims, all these victims, should be our goal. 

I will continue to work with our leadership in the Senate to come up with a solution that can move us past this impasse and send back to the House a VAWA reauthorization bill that protects all victims.  The Senate has passed such a bill.  I am still hopeful that the House will do the same.

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