Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch held a joint press conference today condemning partisanship in the U.S. House that has blocked passage of a bill to protect women from domestic violence.
The Violence Against Women Act provided Vermont organizations with $3.1 million in 2011 to fund programs that provide community-based services, including a telephone hotline, to help victims of domestic violence and hold offenders accountable.
“We first enacted that back in 1994, and sent a very powerful message that stopping domestic violence and sexual violence was a national priority,” Leahy said. “It has helped a great deal because what we’ve done on it. It has been a non-partisan issue; we’ve customarily renewed it.”
The Senate this year did just that. Leahy and Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill, which provides protection and services to immigrants who may not be legally in the country as well as homosexuals who are victims. It also expands the legislation’s coverage in Native American reservations.
Welch said House Republicans are bringing complicated outside debates into what he sees as a straightforward issue.
“So in the House of Representatives, when we strayed from what Patrick said is the common purpose of this legislation and that is to help victims, and then injected these other debates about immigration and about gender orientation, sexual orientation – that is bringing it down in the House,” Welch said.
The goal, both lawmakers said, is a law that protects all victims of domestic violence in the U.S., regardless of status.
In the House, GOP opposition to the Senate version of the bill has bogged down the bill, which passed in the Senate in a notably bipartisan 68-31 vote. House critics of the Senate bill seek to require valid immigration status in the bill and to soften Senate provisions protecting homosexual victims.
Leahy said fears of deportation often prevent immigrants from seeking medical or police assistance when they’re injured and domestic violence is no exception.
“What you have now, if you have an immigrant who does not have legal status – if they’ve been abused,” Leahy said, “they’re afraid to come forward because they’re going to end up possibly being deported. This provides for a special visa for them the police can make sure they have so they don’t get deported and they can then testify.”
Leahy noted that 50 percent of homicides in Vermont are related to domestic violence, and the Senate bill could help quell the problem.
“We’ve expanded it where gender is not an issue, where sexual orientation is not an issue, and when you come right down to it the mantra I had all the way through when we were drafting this at the [Senate] Judiciary Committee,” Leahy said, “was ‘A victim is a victim is a victim.'”