Congress Slow to Pass Violence Against Women Act of 2005
By Pat Reuss, Senior Policy Analyst
The Senate Judiciary Committee left for the August recess without passing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA, S.1197, Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa.) due to a dispute over the section dealing with improvements for battered immigrants.
Because they took a five week recess, Congress left itself only four weeks to address VAWA before its expiration on Oct. 1. The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women and all of its member organizations, including NOW, continued our national grassroots effort to encourage additional congressional sponsors and increase support for VAWA 2005. Activists are determined to keep the bill from being weakened or ignored.
The committee finally voted on Sept. 8 to send the bill to the floor, but only after saddling it with a "poison pill" amendment to require DNA testing of every arrestee — even shoplifters. Many of the economic and employment provisions were weakened as well, although advocates hope that some of these can be added as amendments when the full Senate votes on the passage of VAWA.
Four Decades of Advocacy
For nearly four decades, NOW has campaigned to end violence against women and we are singularly proud of NOW's role in helping to secure the initial passage of VAWA in 1994. VAWA not only increased funding for programs and services addressing violence, but also attempted to improve law enforcement's response to victims of violence. In 2000, after a concerted grassroots effort spearheaded by NOW and our coalition partners, VAWA was reauthorized and the bill included additional funding and directed an improvement in services for rural, older, immigrant and disabled women. But much more needs to be done, including strengthening the focus on violence prevention, addressing youth and dating violence, and ensuring appropriate services and programs are available for underserved constituencies.
In early June, Senators Biden and Specter led the effort to reauthorize VAWA by introducing S.1197. This bill would help safeguard the jobs of women who are abused, provide measures to protect victims of trafficking and increase the availability of transitional housing for domestic and sexual violence survivors; however it fails to cover several critical areas such as the need to define gender violence as a hate crime and to address domestic violence jurisdictional issues within Native American tribal communities.
In the House, Representatives Mark Green (R-Wis.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced their version of VAWA, HR 2876, shortly after the Senate version was introduced. Their bill mirrors much of the Senate bill and is supported by the National Task Force. The House bill calls for many new programs including those that could protect young victims, educate health care workers on how to respond to domestic violence victims and it calls for long-term housing for survivors of violence.
Although NOW supports both of these VAWA reauthorization bills, neither bill compares to the "dream" reauthorization that anti-violence advocates drafted and proposed during this past year. However, another VAWA 2005 bill, proposed by the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, comes a lot closer to what we'd really like to see.
An Act Worth Passing
In late June, Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) proposed an inspiring piece of legislation called "VAWA 2005," HR 3171. Although it has no Republican supporters, it has more than 120 co-sponsors. It is identical to H.R. 2876 but with the addition of important new initiatives sponsored by several NOW friends in Congress: Lucille Royal-Allard's (D-Calif.) "Security and Financial Empowerment Act," Gwen Moore's (D-Wis.) "Shield Act," Carolyn Maloney's (D-N.Y.) "Best Help for Rape Victims Act," Louise Slaughter's (D-N.Y.) "Badge and Uniform Security and Trustworthiness Act of 2005," Sheila Jackson-Lee's (D-Texas) "Victims in Trafficking Assistance Act" and "Save Our Children: Stop the Violent Predators Against Children DNA Act" and Jan Schakowsky's (D-Ill.) "Immigrant Victims of Violence Protection Act."
H.R. 3171 is considered the most inclusive and expansive VAWA reauthorization proposed for 2005, but it will need some Republican sponsors and many more Democrats to sign on if there is to be any hope of having these provisions discussed or included in the final bill.
And finally, the House Judiciary Committee's leadership has taken parts of the Green/Conyers bill, H.R. 2876, and folded these into the bill to reauthorize funding for the Department of Justice. That measure, H.R. 3402, has passed out of committee but the measure would be hard for NOW to support because it drops the housing and workplace initiatives we consider so vital.
VAWA must be reauthorized. We must keep the shelters and crisis centers open and continue to promote anti-violence initiatives within the medical, law enforcement, educational, family and youth communities. Activists and constituents must also insist that Congress take this work seriously and fund it appropriately.
NOW has delivered letters to Congress and encourages activists to send alerts to our elected leaders with this important message: "We encourage you to stand strongly for our nation's commitment to reduce violence and to resist attempts to water down or under fund this important reauthorization when it comes to the floor for a vote. The bill that will be before you is the bare minimum of what is needed to protect and serve all individuals who face domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. There is still more to do for those who get reduced or no services due to their cultural, ethnic, religious, age, income, geographical or immigrant status, to name a few."
We cannot and will not stop our efforts until domestic and sexual violence in all its forms is eradicated from our homes, schools, workplaces and communities. Every one of our Members of Congress must hear from us with this message and must add their names as supporters of VAWA 2005.
Take action! Go to the NOW Action Center on the web (www now.org/congress) and send an email to your senators and House members urging them to support reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
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