WASHINGTON -- Unfazed by a White House veto threat, the House of Representatives on Wednesday approved anti-domestic violence legislation that opponents charge doesnt sufficiently protect gay, lesbian, transgender people, Native Americans and immigrants.
On a 222-205 vote, the House passed a GOP-sponsored bill to renew the Violence Against Women Act, an 18-year-old law written by then-Sen. Joe Biden that dedicates federal resources to assist victims of domestic violence.
Wednesdays vote puts the House at odds once again with the Democratic-controlled Senate, which approved its version of the bill last month on a bipartisan 68-31 vote. The Senate bill renews the act for five years, authorizes $659.3 million in annual spending and contains measures to help victims of sexual assault, improve emergency housing services for victims and consolidate some grant programs to make them more efficient.
It also contains provisions intended to: encourage undocumented immigrants to help law enforcement identify domestic abuse victims; assure protections for gays, lesbians and transgender people, among others; and give tribal courts increased authority to prosecute incidents of domestic violence committed by non-Native Americans in Native American territories.
While both political parties and both chambers of Congress agree on the need for the act a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study last year found that 24 people per minute in this country are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by intimate partners they vastly disagree over what it should include and whom it should protect.
The House bill provides the same level of funding as the Senate measure but excludes some of the specific domestic-violence protections for gays, immigrants and Native Americans that are in the Senate measure.
Those exclusions prompted opposition from hundreds of civil rights, religious and law enforcement groups, including the National Organization for Women, the American Bar Association, the Episcopal Church and the YWCA USA.
During my first term in Congress nearly two decades ago, I proudly voted for the Violence Against Women Act. It saddens me that now, in my last term, my Republican colleagues are determined to water down and undermine this landmark legislation, said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif. But as weve seen many times, the majority likes playing politics with womens health and safety. And because they rarely miss an opportunity to exclude LGBT Americans from important rights and benefits . . . theyre saying that, if youre a woman whos in a relationship with another woman, then you dont deserve the same protection against domestic abuse or sexual assault.
The House bill also left some moderate Republicans feeling uneasy. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, joined 12 Democratic female senators Wednesday in sending a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, that urged him to pass the Senate version of the bill.
We should not let politics pick and choose which victims of abuse to help and which to ignore, the letter read. Each previous reauthorization substantially improved the way VAWA addressed the changing needs of domestic violence victims by addressing challenges facing older victims, victims with disabilities and underserved groups.
But Republicans charged that it was Democrats who were playing election-year politics with the domestic violence issue, to help bolster their argument that the Republican Party is waging a war on womens rights.