Senators should not accede to a compromise measure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act unless the bill includes key provisions dealing with immigrants, gays and lesbians and Native Americans that are opposed by Republicans in the House, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said Tuesday.
Accompanied by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Murray noted that domestic violence programs will remain funded even if the reform measure is not approved, and laid down a marker for the Senate, insisting that senators should support no bill that does not include the controversial items.
“Where a person lives, their immigration status or who they love should not determine whether or not perpetrators of domestic violence are brought to justice,” Murray said. “I am not willing to pass a Violence Against Women Act into law by throwing out the provisions and throwing under the bus Native American women, LGBT members and immigrants who have stood up, fought hard — which we now know in this country has been silent program too long.”
Democrats believe they have the GOP on the defensive on the VAWA issue. The House passed its measure only under intense pressure from Senate Democrats, who shepherded their bill through the chamber on a 68 to 31 vote. Fifteen Republicans supported the bill, including all of the GOP’s female senators.
Republicans accuse Democrats of politicizing what has always been a bipartisan issue and say that Democrats have expanded the measure on purpose to make it difficult for the GOP to support.
The Tuesday news conference highlighted provisions in the Senate bill that would give tribal courts new jurisdiction to prosecute non-native men who abuse native women on Indian reservations.
Deborah Parker, vice-chair of Washington State’s Tulalip Tribes, said she has been inundated with stories from native women whose abusers were never prosecuted because of jurisdiction problems since she first came forward with her own story at a news conference shortly before the Senate vote two months ago.
Some House Republicans have expressed support for the provision. More controversial are pieces of the Senate bill that would bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in federal domestic violence grant programs and expand the number of visas available for illegal immigrants who work with prosecutors in cases of violence.
Standing silently with advocates behind the senators at Tuesday’s news conference was singer Michael Bolton. He offered no remarks and his presence was not recognized by speakers. But afterward, he said he’s been involved with efforts to combat domestic violence in his home state of Connecticut and elsewhere for more than two decades, including lobbying for passage of the original Violence Against Women Act in 1994.
“Since when did we stop prosecuting men for committing crimes?” he said of the ability of some men to escape prosecution on Indian reservations. “We’re past this already and there’s a danger that we’re going to go backwards with the VAWA act, and I don’t want to see that happen.”
VAWA, which has been reauthorized three times since first passed, formally expired last year. Reauthorization is necessary to streamline and consolidate programs.
Before negotiations can begin on the substantive issues that divide the House and Senate, Republicans have said the Senate needs to strip its bill of provisions dealing with revenue, which must originate in the House, according to the Constitution.
“We’re eager to get to conference to work this out,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “Sen. Murray — and Mr. Bolton — should talk to Sen. [Harry] Reid about removing those unconstitutional provisions.”