Legislation to renew the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is currently at an impasse, following House passage of a bill substantially different from the Senate-approved version. Although Congress has renewed the Act in the past with overwhelming bipartisan support, this year’s effort has been marred by political divisions and controversy over whom the law should cover. (See the June 2012 issue of Congressional Digest, Violence Against Women.)
On May 16, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed H.R. 4970 by a vote of 225 to 205. The bill represents a stark contrast to the Senate bill (S. 1925), which expands coverage to more undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse, provides greater protection to members of tribal communities, and specifies that the law must not discriminate on the basis of sexual preference. House sponsors left out those provisions, saying that they are unnecessary because the law already covers everyone.
The White House has threatened to veto the House bill, should it reach the President’s desk, stating: “These proposals senselessly remove existing legal protections, undermine VAWA’s core purpose of protecting victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, frustrate important law enforcement objectives, and jeopardize victims by placing them directly in harm’s way.”
Speaker of the House John Boehner (OH-R) praised the House for passing H.R. 4970, saying, “Like the Senate version of the bill, H.R. 4970 increases funding for investigations, prosecutions and victims’ services, strengthens penalties for sexual assault, abuse and stalking, improves victims’ protections, and promotes educational awareness and crime prevention. H.R. 4970 also improves upon the Senate-version of the bill by preventing fraud within the system, and making the grant process more transparent and accountable.”
Speaker Boehner also surprised Senate supporters by raising a constitutional issue regarding a revenue provision in Senate bill pertaining to fees associated with U visas that are issued to immigrant victims of domestic abuse. The Origination Clause of the Constitution has long been interpreted to mean that all revenue legislation must come from the House.
Given this latest constitutional problem and the array of policy issues that the two chambers must resolve, negotiators face a challenge in overcoming partisan gridlock and coming up a final version that the President will sign. But with women’s issues such an important part of the election year debate, it will be in the interest of both sides to find common ground.