Senate OKs Violence Against Women Act

The Senate voted Thursday afternoon to approve the Violence Against Women Act, 68-31, sending a bipartisan bill to the House of Representatives, although the lower chamber does not intend to vote on that version of the bill.

The law, known on Capitol Hill as VAWA, was first enacted in 1994, reauthorized by Congress in 2000, and again reauthorized in December 2005. Authorization expired Sept. 30 last year but money that was disbursed before the program expired has been used to cover the current fiscal year.

Opponents of the bill object to provisions that make federal grants to domestic violence organizations subject to their ability to prove they do not discriminate against homosexual and transgender victims. They complain that on Native American reservations, it shifts authority of tribal courts over domestic violence matters with non-tribal aggressors. They also object that it provides additional visas for battered undocumented women who agree to cooperate with law enforcement.

Currently, local tribal authorities say they struggle to prosecute domestic abuses cases of Native American women who are married to non-Native American men because they don't have the force of law over non-tribe members. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell cut a deal earlier Thursday to debate and vote on two Republican amendments and one Democratic amendment, although all three amendments failed to get enough support to change the bill.

Last month, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi urged Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which she said "has strengthened communities" by reducing violence against women. House Republicans intend to move on their own version of legislation rather than the Senate-passed bill.