Women's Safety, Reproductive Rights Top NOW's Agenda for 105th Congress

by Jan Erickson,
Government Relations Director

The Violence Against Women Improvement Act of 1997, an expansion of initiatives in the 1994 Violence Against Women Act NOW spearheaded with the NOW Legal and Defense Education Fund, will form the centerpiece of NOW's legislative agenda for the 105th Congress. Under preparation since early last year, the measure is a collection of more than 70 workplace safety, health care, shelter service, child protection, law enforcement, judicial training and education programs that are essential to fighting the epidemic of domestic violence.

The measure also includes the Battered Women's Employment Act, sponsored by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., and Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., which requires states to grant unemployment compensation to women who are forced to leave a job due to domestic violence. It also requires the employer to assure that women get job leave for court appearances, counseling, safety planning and other essential activities related to such violence.

No Guns for Batterers

One early battle in this Congress will be to combat efforts led by House members Reps. Bob Barr, R-Ga., and Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and Senate support from Paul Wellstone, D.-Minn., to exempt police officers and other gun-toting government officials from the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban.

The law forbids a person convicted of a domestic violence offense, including a peace officer, from obtaining or carrying a handgun. A number of police officials have complained both that it is too burdensome to determine if officers have violated the law and that some officers would lose their jobs.

The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, passed late in the 104th Congress, closed a loophole permitting offenders convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, instead of a felony, to carry guns. NOW argues that police officers ought not to be placed above the law, especially when it concerns enforcing domestic violence laws that comprise a major part of police work.

Additionally, it is well known that domestic violence is a serious problem for the law enforcement profession, and this behavior is often overlooked by colleagues. One 1992 study, published in Police Journal, questioned more than 300 volunteers at a law enforcement conference. More than 40 percent reported at least one episode of physical aggression during a conflict with their spouses, companions or children in the previous year.

A Mixed Bag of Attacks and Advances

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