Anti-Violence Victories in Congress and More



by Jan Erickson, Government Relations Director

Congress Approves Funds For Violence Prevention and Response

In a surprise unanimous vote, the House of  Representatives in June adopted several important provisions of the new Violence Against Women Act of 1998 (H.R. 3514, "VAWA II") and authorized nearly a billion dollars for these programs. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., offered the provisions as an amendment to the Child Protection and Sexual Predator Punishment Act (H.R. 3494), a bill being promoted by the Republican leadership.

Included are funds to continue the popular STOP (Services, Training, Officers and Programs) grants, which help communities combat domestic violence, and funds to support pro-arrest policies for perpetrators. The vote also authorized programs for prevention of sexual assault by prison staff, standardization of sexual assault examination and law enforcement training procedures, witness protection for certain victims of domestic violence, clarification of state obligations to recognize family violence protection orders from other states, and grants to train health professionals in domestic violence identification and assistance.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where NOW is urging passage before Congress adjourns in early October. Judiciary Committee Chair Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is reportedly writing his own Sexual Predators Act, and NOW will need to mobilize substantial grassroots support to keep the anti-violence provisions in the bill.
 
Women on campus may be aided by other provisions of  VAWA II, which the Senate added to the Higher Education Act re-authorization bill in a July vote. Senators Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., offered an amendment to require a National Baseline Study to document the effectiveness of campus procedures against sexual assault. Other provisions include grants to improve campus security, prohibit hate crimes and establish penalties for schools that are delinquent in reporting campus crime statistics. A final vote awaits conference committee efforts to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions. NOW activists should immediately urge members of Congress to maintain these strong provisions in the Higher Education Act.
 
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., introduced his own Violence Against Women bill (S. 2110) in June.  Biden's bill contains some but not all of the provisions of the House VAWA II bill that advocates would like to see passed.  Recent reports are that Senators Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Wellstone were to introduce a companion measure that would complete the package.  Sen. Wellstone was also successful in attaching to the FY99 Defense Authorization bill an amendment that would enhance compensation and protection of domestic violence survivors who are military personnel or dependents.
 
Many positive comments were made at Senate and House hearings in July about a proposed expansion of federal criminal statutes to include sex-based, sexual orientation-based and disability-based hate crimes. NOW President Patricia Ireland spoke at a news conference, prior to the Senate hearing, in support of this bipartisan legislation (S. 1529/H.R. 3081), called the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1998.
 
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold an oversight hearing in early September on the effectiveness of federal anti-domestic violence programs. NOW and other groups will brief members of Congress and their staffs on current programs and funding as well as important new initiatives contained in VAWA II.

Other Action in the House and Senate

Products Liability:  Consumer advocates were delighted to see the Senate defeat legislation that would have granted protections for various industries, including gun manufacturers, that might produce dangerous or defective goods. The bill (S. 2236) would also have placed an arbitrary cap on damages awarded against small businesses and would have increased the burden of proof for plaintiffs, making it even more difficult for injured parties to win lawsuits. The legislation had been negotiated by the White House with industry and business groups, bypassing consumer organizations.
 
Bankruptcy:
The Senate will soon vote on a bill (S.1301) that will make it harder to collect past-due child support and alimony.  Women could also lose household goods and become responsible for the credit card debts of their former husbands.  The legislation, pushed by huge credit card companies, is opposed by NOW, as well as by numerous bankruptcy judges, legal scholars and consumer groups. The vote is expected to be close, as the banking industry is putting enormous pressure on members of  Congress (and giving them a fortune in campaign contributions) to pass the bill this year.
 
RICO hearing:
Fay Clayton, NOW's attorney in the successful racketeering case against Joe Scheidler and Operation Rescue, NOW v. Scheidler, testified before the U. S. House Crime Subcommittee in late July. (For more on reproductive rights issues see cover story.)
 
Mandatory Arbitration:
NOW Vice President Action Elizabeth Toledo testified before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in late July on the need to prohibit mandatory arbitration in the securities industry. Toledo said, "Mandatory arbitration effectively guts the civil rights laws and allows the securities industry to lag behind other professional fields in hiring, working conditions and promotion of women and people of color."
 
Welfare fixes:
Advocates are saying "We told you so!"  Evidence from a recent New Jersey study (which the state apparently tried to keep under wraps) shows that denial of additional benefits for a child born to a woman on welfare (often called  family caps) leads to an increase in the number of abortions, as NOW and other advocates for poor women warned prior to passage of the 1996 welfare repeal bill by Congress.  The author of this restrictive provision, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., is now offering legislation (H.R. 4066) that would prohibit states from imposing family caps.
 
EEOC nominee:
The nomination of Ida Castro, acting director of the Women's Bureau at the U.S. Department of  Labor, to become chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is pending in the Senate Committee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, following a hearing in late July. Castro, an attorney, was the first Hispanic woman to earn tenure as an Associate Professor at Rutgers University and has an extensive professional background in employment law. Please take time to urge your Senators to approve her nomination quickly.
 
Battered immigrant women:
The Senate passed legislation in late July to extend protection for battered immigrant women as past of the Commerce/Justice/State Appropriations bill (S. 2260).   Contact your U.S. Representative and urge support for the VAWA Restoration Act (H.R. 4291), an important bill that returns some critical protection for battered immigrant women - protection that was included under the original VAWA, but has been eroded by subsequent immigration legislation. This act would allow battered immigrant women to escape from their abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouses without fear of deportation or other adverse consequences.
 
To receive free copies of any of the above bills, connect to http://thomas.loc.gov/ or call your U.S. Senator or Representative at 202-224-3121.  A monthly Legislative Update is mailed to NOW leadership.  You can connect to www.now.org/issues/legislat/  to read the monthly update and anyone can receive it  by joining NOW's Action Alert e-mail list.  Send an e-mail to majordomo@now.org with the message "subscribe now-action-list" (without the quote marks).


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