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National NOW Times >> Summer, 2000 >> Article

No Re-Authorization for Violence Act; Senate Passes Inclusive Hate Crimes Legislation-Moves to House

by Jan Erickson, Government Relations Director

It's back to square one on re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (H.R. 1248) now that Congress has recessed for the summer without taking a vote on this critically important bill. Extensive partisan wrangling delayed progress for renewal of the 1994 landmark law that has funded $1.6 billion in law enforcement, shelter services, education and prevention programs over the last six years. The Department of Justice announced in May that violence against women by intimate partners fell by 21 percent between 1993 and 1998.

Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., a powerful subcommittee chair, is keeping H.R. 1248 from reaching the floor. On the last day before the recess, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., would not let a vote take place on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (S. 2869) unless his compromise VAWA (S. 2787, co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah) was placed on the calendar. Democrats attempted to expedite the process with a rarely used hotline procedure, but the Republicans refused to go along.

Meanwhile, funding for some VAWA programs has ended, and without any congressional action in September, all federal support will expire on Oct. 1. Only a huge outpouring of grassroots messages and the active involvement of Congressional leadership can help break the logjam.

Restoring Violence Against Women Act Protections

In the wake of the Supreme Court's invalidation of VAWA's civil rights remedy for gender-based violence in the Christy Brzonkala case (Brzonkala v. Morrison), Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., introduced the VAWA Civil Rights Restoration Act of 2000. On May 15, the Court found that under the Commerce Clause and the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, Congress lacked authority to authorize victims to sue their attackers in federal court. The Court asserted that this is a matter for states to address.

Model state legislation, already introduced in Illinois, is available through NOW by e-mailing govtrel@now.org or calling 202-628-8669, ext. 101. A copy of the model bill will be in the next Legislative Update sent to subscribers to NOW's e-mail Action Alert network. Sign up by sending the e-mail message "subscribe-now-action-list" to majordomo@now.org.

Rep. Michael Forbes, D-N.Y., and 23 House members introduced a bill to establish a statutory basis for the Violence Against Women Office (VAWO) in the Department of Justice. The office was originally established through administrative action, and in January it was proposed that the office be dismantled or downgraded.

Additionally, VAWO's director Bonnie Campbell has been nominated for a judgeship with the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. Right-wing opponents have announced that they will fight the nomination on the basis of her strong record in combating violence against women.

Hate Crimes Victory in Senate

In one of the few victories that women's rights advocates have seen this year, the Senate passed a strong hate crimes prevention bill. Renamed the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (S. Amdt.3473, to the defense authorization bill), it would add sex, sexual-orientation and disability hate crimes to federal criminal statutes and remove the overly restrictive requirement that the victim have been engaged in a constitutionally protected act, like voting, in order to warrant federal assistance. The bill faces a major hurdle in moving through the House at the end of this congressional session when there will be numerous other measures pending.

Father's Rights Cause Finds Friends in Congress

The catchword for this political season seems to be "fatherhood," with politicians in both political parties trying to gain ground by supporting programs to help absent, non-custodial dads. Activists in the men's rights movement are attempting to breathe life into the Fathers Count Act (H.R. 3073) that passed the House in November but failed to get Senate approval. At a time when single moms are being pushed off welfare whether they can find jobs or not, this act would have provided $150 million to groups that offer counseling, job placement and other services to fathers who aren't raising their children.

A requirement that programs promote marriage and a charitable choice provision that would allow religious organizations to receive federal funds are other questionable features of this legislation.

A nearly identical version of the bill is wrapped into the otherwise positive Child Support Distribution Act (H.R. 4678), which would pass $2 billion of child support monies over two years directly to families on or leaving welfare-instead of reimbursing the government for welfare costs.

NOW and other women's rights groups are in the difficult position of wanting more support for poor families, while being concerned that the fatherhood monies would end up in the hands of extremist groups that have an agenda of rolling back progressive laws. NOW sent a letter to House members indicating our support for professional and accountable programs that serve poor parents, while not exposing them to increased risk of domestic violence. However, NOW also expressed concern about empowering men's custody groups who aim to reduce or avoid child support by taking custody away from mothers through abusive litigation and such discredited courtroom allegations as "parental alienation syndrome."

H.R. 4678 is still pending on the House calendar and may be put to a vote just after Labor Day.

NOW Takes Action to Stop Honor Killings

A resolution (H.Con.Res. 362) condemning the practice of honor killings, where women are injured or killed by their husbands or other male family members ostensibly to preserve family honor, was adopted by both the House and Senate as part of the Foreign Operations appropriations bill (H.R. 4811). The bipartisan measure, developed by NOW with Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., asked that the United States Agency for International Development exert pressure on countries where these horrendous violations of women's human rights occur.

Sex Trafficking Bill Passed

After protracted negotiations, The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (H.R. 3244, as amended) was adopted in the Senate just prior to the August recess; Sens. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., revised the House-passed bill to incorporate elements of their respective bills.

Although the legislation provides some protections for victims of sex trafficking, loopholes in the definition and enforcement sections make it unlikely that most of the 50,000 or more women brought to the U.S. for this reason will be helped.

Health Advances Undercut

On June 8, the Senate defeated the House-approved Norwood-Dingell patients' bill of rights (H.R. 2723) by only one vote. In July, the Senate passed a newer version of its very weak patients' bill of rights (S. 1344); but advocates are still hoping that the stronger House bill will ultimately pass the Senate in this election year.

Both houses passed legislation negating standards recently adopted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to promote sound ergonomics practices. The new regulations would limit stress and repetitive motion injuries in the workplace. Women suffer disproportionately from those injuries as they tend to hold positions which are subject to repetitive motion (eg. data entry) and stress (nursing home aides, nurses).

The Schumer amendment, which would prevent clinic violence defendants from declaring bankruptcy to avoid paying court-ordered fines, fees and damages, is now part of the Bankruptcy Reform Act (H.R. 833), but it is in danger of being weakened by House-Senate conferees. The bankruptcy bill-which undermines consumer rights and greatly limits the ability of people in financial trouble to regain sound footing-is up for a final vote soon.

Equality Out of Favor

The Senate adopted an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) offered by Sen. Kay Baily Hutchison, R-Texas, that would authorize the use of federal funds for single-sex classes and schools, if the girl's programs are "equal" to those offered to boys. ESEA re-authorization, however, is not expected to pass this Congress. Opponents of gender equity programs in education have escalated their propaganda campaign with a new book by Christina Hoff Sommers, a PBS special called the Gender Wars (funded by a right-wing foundation) and many news articles alleging that it is really boys who are disadvantaged.

A hearing on pay equity was held in June by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, which heard testimony on laws prohibiting wage discrimination. The Senate is not expected to move any legislation addressing the problem of wage inequity this Congress.


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