CHN: VAWA is Reauthorized Despite Contention in House Proceedings

On Thursday February 28, the House passed the Senate’s comprehensive, bipartisan reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) with a vote of 286 to 138. Eighty-seven Republican members of Congress joined with 199 Democrats in reauthorizing VAWA, which expired in 2011 and protects victims of domestic and sexual abuse. The reauthorization includes additional safeguards for American Indian, LGBT, student and immigrant victims, specifically ensuring that they are guaranteed access to federal grants and legal aid. For more information on VAWA, see this article in the Human Needs Report from February 11.
The bill (S. 47)’s increased protections for gay, bisexual or transgender victims are seen by many advocates as an important human rights victory. The reauthorization bill also gives increased authority to tribal courts to prosecute non-American Indian sexual offenders who commit crimes against American Indians on a reservation. More than one-third of American Indian and Alaska Native women are raped in their lifetime, a much higher proportion than that of any other population subgroup.

S. 47 passed the Senate on February 12 with 78 votes, showing strong support from both parties. It was well known that passage in the House would be more contentious, but House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R – VA) promised to make the bill a top priority. On Friday February 22, Republican members in the House presented a substitute to S. 47 that was strongly opposed by human rights groups, House Democrats and the Administration due to its removal of the proposed safeguards for American Indian women and LGBT victims and its exclusion of important human trafficking protections.

The matter came to a head last Thursday, when the House took up the vote on the Republican alternative, which was rejected, 166 to 257. Following the substitute bill’s loss, Speaker John Boehner (R – OH) brought the Senate-passed bill to the floor despite not having majority support from his Republican colleagues. This is the second time this year that Boehner has brought a bill to the floor against the wishes of his party majority, inciting disappointment from a number of Republican members.

Having now passed the Senate and the House, S. 47 will go to the President. President Obama has expressed his happiness to reauthorize the bill, saying “Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk.”

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