Summer Wrap-Up



by Jan Erickson
Government Relations Director
 


VAWA Programs to Expire Without Re-Authorization


Nearly all programs established by the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) will expire at the end of this year unless Congress acts to re-authorize and provide $419 million for anti-violence programs in prevention, law enforcement, public education, counseling and shelter services.  Some VAWA programs have already expired but are continuing as long as funds are available, while others must have federal funding assured by January 2000 at the latest.

Also potentially affected if federal funding stops is the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) which fields close to 9,000 calls per month from battered women needing information and referral to local services.

VAWA re-authorization hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee have been canceled twice; however, near-level funding is specified for domestic violence programs in both Justice and Health and Human Services departments' appropriations bills.  But Congressional action on many key budget measures has slowed to a tortoise pace due to intensive partisan debate over the Republicans' $792 billion tax cut, a proposal that is destined for a swift presidential veto.

The Republicans' post-veto strategy will let major appropriations bills languish, ultimately forcing the administration to negotiate a budget which would have higher defense spending, deep cuts in social programs and a still substantial tax reduction package.  If this scenario happens, funding for many programs which NOW and other women's groups have worked for could be in serious trouble.


Action Against Hate Crimes and Discrimination

One bright note is that the Senate voted on July 22 to adopt the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1999 (S. 622/H.R. 1082, HCPA) as an amendment to the Commerce/State/Justice departments appropriations bill.  HCPA would add three new categories of bias crimes to the federal criminal statutes, covering sex-based, sexual orientation-based and disability-based crimes.  It would also remove restrictions that allow federal prosecution only when a victim is engaged in a federally-protected activity such as voting.

NOW and other advocates who have been working for more than a decade on this issue hailed the adoption of HCPA by the Senate and urged swift House passage.  House Judiciary Chair Henry Hyde, R-Ill., held a hearing on Aug. 4 at which time conservative opponents asserted that hate crimes are due to "character traits" or "temporary emotional states" which should not be singled out for additional punishment.

NOW activists are strongly urged to call their House member and Rep. Hyde to urge action on the legislation.

NOW and other civil rights groups were unsuccessful in amending the Religious Liberty Protection Act (H.R. 1691, RLPA) so that it would not undermine enforcement of state and local civil rights laws, especially those that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital or pregnancy status and disability in housing and public accommodations.

An amendment offered by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., that would have prevented discrimination by large businesses and landlords failed (190-234) and RLPA passed the House on July 15.  But Senate Democratic leadership may help get a similar amendment adopted when the bill is taken up following the August recess.


Women's Health and Well-Being on the Agenda

In May, Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, along with Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, introduced the Silicone Breast Implant Research and Information Act (S. 1075/H.R. 1323) supporting independent government research and calling for a Consumer Information Line that would provide factual information about the risks involved with implants.

In June, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a 400-page report reviewing hundreds of scientific studies concluding that, from available data, there appears to be no link between silicone breast implants and disease.  The IOM cautioned, however, that many studies were flawed and that serious local conditions such as rupture, leakage and infection could develop. A significant number of those studies were sponsored by breast implant manufacturers and looked at healthy women who had implants for a short time or examined only small numbers of patients.  Noting such studies as a recent one by Florida State University which documents rupture rates up to 90 percent over a 17 year period, the IOM recommended that doctors fully apprise breast implant patients of the risks and continue supervision of all women with implants.

After intense debate, the Senate passed the Republican version of the Patient's Bill of Rights (S.1344) with a few provisions which Democrats sought, such as allowing a woman to use her ob-gyn as her primary care physician.  Advocates thought that chances for a strong House bill were nil, but the 17 former doctors, dentists and nurses in the House are organizing to push through key provisions to better protect consumers in managed care plans.  Big business and insurance companies have launched a multi-million dollar campaign to fight the Patient's Bill of Rights as well as the Medicare prescription drug benefit that the President has proposed.

An exciting development occured in mid-July when the 52-member Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues announced the establishment of ten legislative teams who will work for passage of more than 50 bills. Co-chairs Reps. Sue W. Kelly, R-N.Y., and Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., released their priority list which includes VAWA re-authorization, Cancer Screening Coverage Act, Breast and Cervical Cancer Act, Osteoporosis Early Detection and Prevention Act, Teen Pregnancy Reduction Act, Right to Breastfeed Act, After-School Children's Education Act, Fair Pay Act, Access Act on Child Care Affordability, Long Term Care and Retirement Security Act, measures to shore up Social Security and numerous other initiatives advancing women's interests.

The Senate is expected to pass in September a regressive bankruptcy reform bill (H.R. 833/S. 625) making it more difficult for women to collect past-due child support and alimony as they will have to compete with credit card companies and the government.  The powerful banking and credit card industry has poured millions of dollars into lobbying and campaign contributions to get the legislation passed.  Single women filing for bankruptcy are the fastest growing segment of the financially troubled population.


Reproductive Rights Up for Grabs

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will offer an amendment to H.R. 833/S. 625 to close loopholes in existing law that allow clinic violence defendants to avoid paying court-imposed damages or fines by declaring bankruptcy.  The same amendment, offered by Rep. Nadler, failed in the House, which passed the bill by 313-108.

To gain movement on stalled judicial confirmations, President Clinton agreed to nominate for the federal bench an anti-reproductive rights judge, Ted Stewart—a friend of Senate Judiciary Chair Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.  No action has been taken on 37 of the 61 nominees still awaiting confirmation after two and three years; many of the delayed nominees are women and people of color.

For much more on the current status of reproductive rights, see the full story "Reproductive Rights Battle Continues Unabated."


On Other Fronts


Copies of bills can be accessed through Congress' web site at thomas.loc.gov or requested free of charge from your member of Congress by calling 202-224-3121.  To receive e-mail copies of the monthly NOW Legislative Update, which contains detailed information on important legislative developments, and NOW Action Alerts, send the message subscribe now-action-list to majordomo@now.org.  Visit the new web site for VAWA 1999 (H.R. 357) and the Re-Authorization bill (H.R. 1248) at www.VawAct.com.

 Sign on to our national petition "It's My Right . . . to Live Free of Domestic and Sexual  Violence," developed by NOW graphic artist Chris Myers.  Connect to www.now.org/issues/violence/ or call 202-628-8669 to obtain and distribute your own copy of the petition.  Advocates will present the thousands of petition names to urge Congress to pass the new VAWA.



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