Rep. Newton I. Steers (R-Md.) staged a multi-media event yesterday in behalf of his bill on domestic violence legislation that his opponent in the November election, Democrat Michael Barnes, has called the "first and only" major legislation introduced by the freshman representative from Montgomery County.
Barnes, has zeroed in on the battered wives proposal in an attempt to portray Steers as an "ineffective legislator," but Barnes may have to change his strategy if the bill, given new life by the House Rules Committee on Tuesday, is passed before Congress adjourns next month.
Yesterday, Steers played host to a couple of hundred feminists and other supporters of the legislation in the Longworth House Office Building by showing a preview of an NBC movie, "Battered," which will be shown on the network next Tuesday night.
Two stars of the made-for-television movie, Karen Grassle and Chip Fields, spoke about the need for such legislation. Grassle, who plays Caroline Ingalls on "Little House on the Prairie," co-authored the script for "Battered" after visiting crisis centers and talking to police and social workers about the problem.
Grassle called the proposed legislation "exactly what's needed."
After the proposal was defeated on the House floor last May, by a vote of 201 in favor to 205 against. Barnes picked up a line in a Washington Star story that said Steers "major legislative effort as a congressman met with disaster." Steers contends the disaster was the decision to seek to have it passed under a suspension of rules, which requires a two-thirds majority. Legislators sometimes vote differently when only a simple majority is required.
As the result of this week's action by the Rules Committee, the bill will need only a simple majority for passage if it gets to the floor before the planned Oct. 14 adjournment.
Steers and the other sponsors, Reps. Lindy Boggs (D-La.), Barbara Mukulski (D-Md.) and George Miller (D-Calif.) believe they have answered objections to a similar proposal that was defeated last year. The revised legislation provides for $15 million (half of the 1977 proposal) and places control under the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (instead of a new agency). Funds would be paid to agencies that counsel and provide shelter and medical care for victims.
Similar legislation passed the Senate on Aug. 1, and Steers is confident that if his version passes the House, the differences can be worked out in committee in time for him to turn the tables on Barnes and count its enactment as major legislation of his first term.