Republicans cry foul over death of domestic violence bill

Virginia Republicans are charging that Democrats in the Senate have killed a bill addressing domestic violence for partisan reasons.

The bill, HB1, was introduced by Del. Barbara J. Comstock (R-Fairfax) and would increase the amount of money that can go to victims of domestic and sexual violence and funds for combating those crimes, while also launching a subcommittee to study streamlining the funding process for agencies that deal with the issue.

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Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) recommended in committee Wednesday that the bill be carried over until 2015, a motion that was approved on a party-line vote.

Howell and Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier) had introduced legislation that was initially identical. But concerns over potential unintended consequences of the bill, which would have created a Sexual and Domestic Violence Subfund overseen by the Workers’ Compensation Commission, led the Senate courts committee to delay the legislation until next year so a task force can work out complications.

Comstock and her co-patron, Del. Christopher Kilian Peace (R-Hanover), said those issues were resolved when the House version of the bill was amended in committee and the subfund was replaced with the subcommittee to study the funding process. The real problem, they alleged, was that Comstock is running for the Northern Virginia congressional seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R) and Democrats wanted to deprive her of a victory to tout on the campaign trail.

“This issue was not a controversial one until my fellow co-patron announced for Congress,” Peace said.

“There’s been a very clear message from the Senate that they wanted to kill leadership bills and mine in particular,” added Comstock, who chairs the House Science and Technology Committee. “Instead of looking at the importance of this issue, there was just partisan politics.”

Howell called the charges “nonsense,” saying legitimate policy spurred the move, citing the accountability of the fund and its ability to receive federal grant money as issues that need further study.

“It’s a very important subject, and we need to get it right,” she said.

Dana G. Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, agreed.

“It just makes sense before you go full-speed ahead to study the ramifications,” she said. Moving ahead with Comstock’s bill before figuring out the funding process, she said, was “letting the horse out of the barn” too early: “Let’s make sure that we know what we’re doing first.”

The bill passed the House unanimously, and several Democrats signed on as co-patrons.

Several advocates for domestic violence victims spoke in favor of the bill and expressed disappointment when it did not pass.

“The need to streamline these funds is clear and urgent,” said Kristi VanAudenhove of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Alliance. “There were differences of opinion on how to do that, and they couldn’t be bridged. But we’re optimistic that they could be in the future.”

Both the House and Senate budgets, she noted, include more than $5 million for prevention of domestic violence.

The introduction of HB1 was itself somewhat political. Republican leadership, stung in recent years by Democrats’ accusations of a “War on Women,” made sure that the first bill entered in 2014 came from a female delegate and addressed women’s concerns.

Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), one of the House’s most conservative members and a rival of Comstock in the 10th district primary, snagged that symbolic designation last year for a bill that would have established that life begins at conception.

 
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