The Violence Against Women Act is on life support
Posted by Suzy Khimm on January 25, 2013
The death knell for the Violence Against Women Act has been sounding for weeks. “The 112th Congress ended Thursday, and the Violence Against Women Act perished with it,”
In reality, the protections for victims under VAWA haven’t completely gone away, but they are being threatened by ongoing legislative gridlock that the new Congress is now trying to overcome.
On paper, VAWA has been technically “dead” since September 2011, when Congress failed to reauthorize it. But the funding for VAWA’s programs has kept going, because the budgeting process is separate from the reauthorization and Congress has continued to appropriate money for the relevant programs, which assist victims of domestic violence by strengthening federal law enforcement and social services.
“There is no immediate to threat [of] programs shutting down and not being funded,” explains Sharon Stapel, executive director of the Anti-Violence Project. The administration hasn’t changed the legal protections (pdf) set forth under VAWA since its last 2005 reauthorization, including the “rape shield law,” which restricts the ability of a defendant to use an alleged rape victim’s sexual history in court.
However, the last Congress’ failure to reauthorize VAWA has made the future of the law uncertain. There are two ways in which the law’s programs could dry up.
First, Congress could decide to stop funding VAWA’s programs any time after March 27, when the current Continuing Resolution expires, and the expiration of VAWA’s authorization could give fiscally conservative legislators a new rationale for making cuts. That’s fueled significant uncertainty for domestic violence shelters and other groups that receive money from programs authorized by the law. Second, if the law is never reauthorized, a future White House could reverse its legal protections.
There’s still strong bipartisan support for VAWA, but the reason that the law has languished is because Democrats want certain expanded protections for immigrant, LGBT, and Native American victims. The Senate successfully passed a bill with the new provisions in April, 68-31. House Republicans passed their own VAWA bill in May without the new provisions, which the White House then threatened to veto. And the two parties have been deadlocked since then, as neither side believes the other’s legislation is acceptable.
Republicans have raised particularly strong objections to a provision in the Senate Democratic bill that would allow Native American tribal courts to prosecute non-native perpetrators, which they believe is unconstitutional. (The GOP version would allow Native Americans to apply for a protection order in US District Courts, even if the abuse happens on Native American land.)
Republicans have also objected to adding non-discrimination for LGBT victims receiving social services funded VAWA, arguing in 2012 that it was simply a “political statement” in an election year. Finally, they opposed the Senate Democrats’ proposed increase in “U visas,” which are granted to certain undocumented immigrant victims that give them legal status and work authorization. Supporters believe the visas are a valuable law enforcement tool to help prosecute perpetrators while protecting undocumented victims who may be afraid to speak out.
Read the rest of the story at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/25/the-violence-against-women-act-is-on-life-support/