Violence Against Women Act Still in Limbo in House

Senate bill moves ahead with controversial provisions, while House version waits in the wings.

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisc., recounts her own history of being sexually assaulted during her childhood and then raped as a young woman as she and other Democrats in the House push for the unrestricted reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 16, 2012.

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisc., recounts her own history of being sexually assaulted during her childhood and then raped as a young woman as House Democrats push for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, May 16, 2012.

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The Violence Against Women Act is expected to clear a procedural hurdle Monday and be moved out of the Senate by the end of the week with bipartisan support, but its future remains in limbo in the House of Representatives because of key protections for immigrants and the LGBT community.

The original bill, which was passed in the 1990s, expired nearly two years ago. Its reauthorization has been a top priority for Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Idaho Republican Mike Crapo since the legislation sailed through the Senate in April 2011 with 68 votes. But the House version, which passed in May 2012, was significantly different. The bill was stripped of many of the Senate's provisions, and the White House threatened to veto it. The House and the Senate never agreed on how to proceed, so lawmakers started from scratch in January when the 113th Congress reconvened.

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And while the Senate bill has been tweaked slightly, many of the partisan sticking points remain.

"The Leahy-Crapo VAWA bill seeks to protect all victims of domestic and sexual violence, including tribal women, college students, and members of the LGBT community," Leahy said in a statement. "The bill closely mirrors the bill that was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate last year, and is the result of close consultation with law enforcement officials and the dedicated experts in the field."

The Senate version of the bill makes it clear that services for emergency shelter and victim care cannot be refused to survivors because they are illegal immigrants or part of the LBGT community.

The bill also seeks to penalize non-Indian men who live on reservations and abuse their partners. According to the White House, nearly 80 percent of people living on reservations are not part of the tribe, but are married or dating a member. Under current law, non-Indian men on reservations are not prosecuted for the crimes they commit because the tribal courts cannot legally go after them, and federal law enforcement agencies do not prioritize domestic abuse cases that occur on the reservations.

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However, despite keeping many of the controversial provisions intact, the Senate's new bill makes a few concessions.

The new version of the bill does not include an increase in the number of U-visas the U.S. grants to illegal immigrants who are abused, a sticking point for the House GOP.

The Senate also included a popular GOP provision into the revised legislation which would allocate more resources to help law enforcement agencies across the country eliminate the back log of rape kits, and create a national database of forensic evidence to catch perpetrators of sex crimes.

"The provision makes this bill even more enticing for Republicans to support," says a top Democratic Judiciary Committee aide. "This is a response to the needs of those who deal with [abuse] on a daily basis. It provides protections for a lot of different people and anyone who opposes it is allowed to do so, but the bill has a lot of conservative support in the Senate. We are hopeful."

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In the House, lawmakers are just reacquainting themselves with the legislation. The lead sponsor of the 2011 House legislation is no longer in office so Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, is working to build support for a new VAWA bill in the House.

However, the details of the House new bill are not clear.

Doug Heye, aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, also echoed the need to pass new legislation sooner rather than later, but he remained vague.

"We continue to work with VAWA advocates on the best path forward to ensure we protect women and prosecute offenders," he says.

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Cantor worked with one of the original sponsors of the 1994 legislation, Vice President Joe Biden, in December in a last-ditch effort to pass the reauthorization before the clock ran out on the 112th Congress, but the deal stalled. While VAWA expired nearly two years ago, the provisions within the bill are still law, and programs created under the bill are still being sponsored. However, if lawmakers want to make changes to the bill, they must pass a new law.