Capitol View on Kids: The Latest News from Washington on Children and Families

Violence Against Women Act Passes

On Thursday, February 28, the House of Representatives approved S. 47, a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)The bill will now go to the President’s desk for signature.

It ends a legislative fight that began in the spring of 2012 with Senate debate that resulted in a bipartisan vote of support. It died in the House of Representatives late last year when sides were unable to come to an agreement with the Senate over the differences between the two bills.

The Senate re-passed largely the same legislation with a change that removed a potential jurisdictional issue between the Senate and House.  The Senate also approved a bipartisan amendment to clarify that child victims of sex trafficking are eligible to receive assistance under grants provided to enhance the safety of youth and children.

Last week, House Republicans offered a different version of the bill, but when they failed to get the needed votes to pass their own bill, they then voted on the Senate bill.  Difference between the House and Senate centered on provisions that allow tribal authorities to prosecute non-Indian men who abuse Indian women (the law passed last week does allow it), and clarifies language that formally extends the law to cover domestic violence when it involves issues of gender identity and sexual orientation.

VAWA was first adopted in 1994 as part of that year’s crime bill (PL 103-322) and has been reauthorized in 2000 (PL 106-386) and most recently in 2006 (PL 109-162). Funds are appropriated through either the Departments of Justice or Health and Human Services (HHS) budgets.

Appropriations total more than $600 million a year, with nearly $200 million flowing through HHS. The programs generally fall under the categories of law enforcement, prevention efforts and human service programs to assist victims.  Its biggest grant is the Services, Training, Officers, Prosecutors (STOP) program, which targets law enforcement efforts. VAWA includes a number of programs that address or overlap with child abuse services.

Other programs of note include the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) grants, Rural Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Enforcement grants, Battered Women’s Shelters grants (HHS), and Rape Prevention Education. There are also several smaller grants to address campus-based violence, advocacy for youth victims and combating dating violence.

When the final vote was taken last Thursday, some members of the House still objected to the provision that allows tribal authorities to prosecute non-Indian men who abuse Indian women.  Critics contend the provision would extend too much power to tribal governments but under current law tribal courts cannot prosecute an accused perpetrator of domestic violence if they are not Native American.

Defenders of the Senate language argue that the higher rates of violence on Indian land, including rape, demand stronger protection not currently in the law. Opponents fear that the accused would be denied protections under the Constitution.

In addition to the tribal issue, some House opponents objected to the Senate bill language that formally extends the law to cover domestic violence when it involves issues of gender identity and sexual orientation. Critics see this provision as an expansion of the law’s scope, but   supporters note that people from this community already receive services in some areas of the country and the new language will make clear that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and questioning (LGBTQ) populations can be served under the law.

Beyond these issues, some members of the House simply objected to the federal government playing any role or providing any funding to address domestic violence arguing it is a matter best left to state and local governments.

Also in this week’s edition of Capitol View on Kids:

  • The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources hears from adoption leaders about how they’d change the Adoption Assistance program.
  • The same subcommittee gets the ball rolling on reauthorization of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
  • March 27 looms as the next big fiscal cliff-aversion date; it’s the day the federal government runs out of 2013 money without a new deal in place.

John Sciamanna, who writes Capitol View on Kids, is a strategic consultant on child welfare policy and legislation. Complete copies of the newsletter Capitol View on Kids are available through membership in the National Foster Care Coalition (www.nationalfostercare.org ) or the National Child Abuse Coalition (www.nationalchildabuse.org ).

For more information on either coalition, email: john.sciamanna962@gmail.com

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1118 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.