Senate Passes Violence Against Women's Act

After the bill ran out of steam in Congress during election season last year, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has passed in the Senate, a bill designed to give victims of domestic violence more protection.

The vote was bipartisan, 78-22.

The reauthorization now includes equal anti-domestic violence program access and protections for gays, lesbians, Native Americans and immigrants and a provision that would speed up the analysis of DNA evidence of rape kit, to avoid the rape kit backlog.

The act, first passed in 1994, was in its essence uncontroversial and routine, and was reauthorized twice with bipartisan support each time and last reauthorized in 2006, for five years.

But the new version of the bill was pegged by some Republicans as representing a "drastic expansion" of parts of the law as it was negotiated by the Senate Judiciary Committee, especially a provision within the reauthorization regarding tribal courts.

The Senate defeated the Republican amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would have removed the right for tribal authorities to prosecute non-Native Americans who had been accused of domestic violence against Native Americans.

"A victim is a victim is a victim and violence is violence is violence," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and chief sponsor of the bill, said today after the vote, defending the need for additional provisions added into the reauthorization.

The bill faces an uncertain and uphill climb in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

"The clock is ticking now," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said after the vote. "It is now up to the House to not put this critical bill on the back burner and delay it any further."

Eighteen House Republicans today sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor urging the House leaders to bring a VAWA bill to the floor, indicating perhaps some movement toward a compromise.

The letter was welcomed by Senate Democrats today.

"I hope it will get an immediate response by the House of Representatives," Sen. Maria Cantwell, D- Wash., said today of the letter.

President Obama is in support of the Senate bill and lauded the bill's passage today.

"It's now time for the House to follow suit and send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law," Obama said after the vote.

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