Anti-Violence Victories in Congress and More
by Jan Erickson, Government Relations Director
Congress Approves Funds For Violence Prevention
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
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., introduced his own Violence Against Women bill
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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."
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.
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
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
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 email@example.com
with the message "subscribe now-action-list" (without the quote marks).
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