Leahy leads effort to strengthen anti-domestic violence law

SJC Approves Bill To Reauthorize Landmark Violence Against Women Act

Leahy Leads Effort In Washington To Strengthen Anti-Domestic Violence Law

WASHINGTON (Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012) – The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, approved legislation Thursday to extend the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the law at the heart of the federal government’s efforts to stamp out domestic and sexual violence.

Leahy introduced the bipartisan Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act in November with Idaho Republican Mike Crapo. The bill would further strengthen and improve programs authorized under the landmark law to assist victims and survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The reauthorization bill adds an increase focus on sexual assault, including the addition of new purpose areas to support the efforts of sexual assault coalitions working in the states.

“No other law has done more to stop domestic and sexual violence in our communities,” said Leahy. “As a prosecutor in Vermont, I saw firsthand the destruction caused by domestic and sexual violence. Those were the days before VAWA, when too often people dismissed these serious crimes with a joke, and there were few, if any, services for victims. We have come a long way since then, but there is much more we must do.”

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act includes an important increase in all-state minimum funding formulas for key grant programs. This guaranteed baseline of funding will ensure that small, rural states like Vermont have access to victim services grants authorized under VAWA. The bill also includes important definitions to ensure that Vermont remains an eligible state under the definition of a rural jurisdiction. Leahy has long championed all-state minimum funding formulas for a variety of federal grant assistance programs. For example, the VAWA reauthorization proposal will more than double the funds available to Vermont under the Rape Prevention and Education Grants.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was first enacted in 1994, and has been reauthorized twice since, each time with bipartisan support from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Thursday’s vote marks the first occasion in which the Judiciary Committee reported Violence Against Women Act legislation on a party-line vote. Despite weeks of negotiations with the panel’s Republican members and the Committee’s adoption of a trio of amendments sponsored by Republicans, long-time Republican supporters opposed reporting the reauthorization bill to the full Senate. Critical programs authorized under VAWA include those providing support for victim services, transitional housing, and legal assistance.

“I find one concern with our bill disheartening,” said Leahy. “Some are saying we seek to protect too many victims. One thing I know from my time as a prosecutor, and I would hope it is something we can all agree on, is that all victims count. All victims deserve protection. That is a message we have heard loud and clear from our states and something I hope is common ground. The bipartisan reauthorization bill that I introduced with Senator Crapo now has the support of 34 other Senators, including a majority of Senators serving on this Committee. This has always been a bipartisan effort. This should not be a partisan matter.”

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act also emphasizes the need to provide services to all victims of domestic and sexual violence. The bill ensures access to services through a uniform non-discrimination provision that, for the first time in VAWA’s history, provides inclusive language to ensure that victims seeking assistance cannot be denied services based on gender identity or sexual orientation, as well as race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or disability.

The reauthorization bill also improves responses to the high rate of violence against women in tribal communities by strengthening concurrent tribal criminal jurisdiction over perpetrators who assault Indian spouses and dating partners in Indian Country.

Importantly, the reauthorization bill includes a number of accountability provisions to ensure that federal dollars are properly spent, including reporting requirements to prevent waste, fraud and abuse. The bill consolidates and streamlines a number of authorized grant programs, and eliminates duplicative grant programs. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act will provide a five year authorization for VAWA programs, and reduce authorized funding levels by more than $135 million, or 17 percent, from the law’s 2005 authorization.

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act is supported by over 50 national religious organizations, more than 200 national organizations, and 500 state and local organizations, including victim service providers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors and survivors themselves. The bill is cosponsored by 34 Senators, both Democrats and Republicans.

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Key improvements included in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization

· An emphasis on the need to effectively respond to sexual assault crime by adding new purpose areas and a 20 percent set-aside in the STOP state formula grant program and the Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforcement of Protection Orders Program;

· Improvements in tools to prevent domestic violence homicides by training law enforcement, victim service providers, and court personnel on identifying and managing high risk offenders and connecting high risk victims to crisis intervention services;

· Improvements in responses to the high rate of violence against women in tribal communities by strengthening concurrent tribal criminal jurisdiction over perpetrators who assault Indian spouses and dating partners in Indian country;

· Measures to strengthen housing protections for victims by applying existing housing protections to nine additional federal housing programs;

· Measures to promote accountability to ensure that federal funds are used for their intended purposes;

· Consolidation of programs and reductions in authorizations levels to address fiscal concerns, and renewed focus on programs that have been most successful;

· Technical corrections to updates definitions throughout the law to provide uniformity and continuity throughout the law.

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Opening Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
Executive Business Meeting
February 2, 2012

This morning across town, many members of the Committee are attending the Annual National Prayer Breakfast. I look forward to those members joining us as soon as possible so that we can proceed to the important matters on our agenda. The legislation I hope we can report from Committee today, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011, is supported by over 50 national religious organizations, including the Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Alliance of Baptists, the National Council of Jewish Women, National Council of Catholic Women, the Islamic Society of North America, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church, just to name a few. I thank those religious organizations for joining me, Senator Crapo, and our growing, bipartisan list of cosponsors in our effort to stem the very real violence experienced by too many families in this country.

No other law has done more to stop domestic and sexual violence in our communities. As a prosecutor in Vermont, I saw firsthand the destruction caused by domestic and sexual violence.
Those were the days before VAWA, when too often people dismissed these serious crimes with a joke, and there were few, if any, services for victims. We have come a long way since then, but there is much more we must do. I thank Senator Franken and Senator Klobuchar, two strong supporter and cosponsors, for their heartfelt statements in support of the bill last week.

As with each previous reauthorization of VAWA, this legislation builds on VAWA’s success and seeks to respond to unmet and emerging needs. In preparing for this reauthorization, Senator Crapo and I reached out to the professionals in the field to learn how this critical legislation could be improved to better serve victims. We heard from victim service providers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors and survivors themselves. We have worked hard to make this bill responsive to their needs. Their reaction has been remarkable. More than 200 national organizations and 500 state and local organizations have expressed their support for this bill, including the National Taskforce to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, the National Association of Attorneys General, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. Yes, this bill includes new things, new needed programs. That is precisely why we reauthorize legislation – to give Congress an opportunity to learn what is working, what needs remain unmet, and what should be done going forward.

In fact, the improvements in this bill are relatively modest when compared to the previous reauthorizations. Those bills – which I note were supported by many of the Republicans on this Committee – created many new grant programs and raised authorization levels almost across the board. The bill we consider today creates only one very modest new grant program and reduces authorization levels for the rest. In fact, our bill reduces the scale of VAWA. It consolidates 13 existing programs, and it reduces authorization levels by nearly 20 percent.

I find one concern with our bill disheartening. Some are saying we seek to protect too many victims. One thing I know from my time as a prosecutor, and I would hope it is something we can all agree on, is that all victims count. All victims deserve protection. That is a message we have heard loud and clear from our states and something I hope is common ground. The bipartisan reauthorization bill that I introduced with Senator Crapo now has the support of 34 other Senators, including a majority of Senators serving on this Committee. That support reflects Congress’s ongoing commitment to end domestic and sexual violence. This has always been a bipartisan effort. It remains so today with several Republican Senators supporting our bill. This should not be a partisan matter. I hope that all Senators on this Committee will join to support this bill and this important effort to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. If there are issues we must debate, let us debate them, vote, and then report this important bill with strong bipartisan support as we always have.

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