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U.S. Senate Passes Aid to Victims of Domestic Violence

U.S. Senate Democrats are urging lawmakers in the Republican-led House to quickly pass legislation reauthorizing assistance to victims of domestic violence.

Fifteen Senate Republicans joined all of the chamber’s Democrats yesterday to pass a renewal of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act and authorize $660 million through 2016 for domestic violence shelters and police training. Democrats cast the measure, passed 68-31, as a test of Republicans’ attitudes toward women.

“Today’s strong bipartisan vote will give law enforcement agencies the tools they need to prosecute and convict the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, and will help victims get the protection and support they need,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in a statement. “I urge my colleagues in the House to quickly approve the Senate’s bipartisan bill.”

Congressional Republicans have been trying to blunt Democrats’ criticism that the party is hostile toward women. House Republicans yesterday said they may vote as soon as the week of May 14 on their version of a measure to reauthorize the law.

“It has been the goal and the desire of Senate Republicans to pass the Violence Against Women Act without procedural impediment,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters before the vote.

Women Voters

Democrats say they hope their support for the bill will shore up the party’s support among women voters. A Quinnipiac University national poll conducted April 11-17 found that President Barack Obama holds a 10-percentage-point advantage among women in the poll. He was backed by 49 percent compared with 39 percent for Romney. Obama trails slightly with men, with 43 percent supporting him compared with Romney’s 46 percent.

The funding authorized under the Senate bill is less than the $682.5 million in the previous law, which expired Sept. 30. First enacted as part of a broader violent-crime control bill, the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005.

The legislation’s chief sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in an interview he hopes the Republican votes in the Senate backing the bill would ease House passage of the act.

“A strong vote here helps the people who want to do the right thing over there,” he said.

The House’s legislation tracks closely with an alternative put forth by Senate Republicans that would have stripped language in the Senate bill expanding the number of visas available to domestic violence victims who aid criminal investigations.

‘Great Victory’

“This is a great victory for women,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said in an interview. “We were pleased to get a number of Republican votes in the end, and this is ready to move. Now it’s the House’s turn, and I’m very hopeful we will be able to get it done.”

At Republicans’ urging, Democrats who control the Senate allowed a vote on a proposal to give the Justice Department funding to address an estimated 400,000 backlog of untested rape kits. The chamber also voted on the Republican proposal that would have deleted the visa language. Both amendments failed to gain the 60 votes needed for adoption.

The White House strongly backed the Senate measure because it provides services to victims and “improves the prosecution of these crimes,” Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to Obama, said yesterday in a conference call with reporters.

House Version

Jarrett wouldn’t say whether Obama would veto a House version of the bill, adding that “all of our effort is going into making sure” the Democratic measure passed the Senate.

According to the White House, incidents of domestic violence have dropped by more than 50 percent since the law was enacted in 1994. Even so, one in three women in the U.S. will experience rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner at some time in their lives, the White House said, citing the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.

The survey found that more than 12 million individuals experienced domestic violence in the one-year period, and, while women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence, men also are victims.

The White House opposed the alternative proposed by Republican Senators Charles Grassley of Iowa and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Jarrett said.

“We believe it takes us backwards,” she said. She said the Republican measure would discourage local police departments from arresting domestic violence offenders, delete provisions for aiding gay men, lesbians and trans-gender people and weaken proposals to confront high rates of violence on college campuses.

Before yesterday’s vote, Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said Democrats are “making this harder than it needs to be.” He said, “This should be simple.”

Leahy blamed Republicans, saying, “There should not have been all this time to get to something that just makes sense.”

The bill is S. 1925.

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