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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 by a vote of 68-31. Democrats cast the bill, which would authorize $660 million through 2016 for domestic violence shelters and police training, 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 urging House passage of his chamber’s measure.

Republicans have been trying to blunt Democrats’ criticism that the party is hostile toward women. House Republicans yesterday said they may vote during the week of May 14 on their own 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.

Support Among Women

Democrats say they hope their support for the bill will buttress the party’s support among women. A Quinnipiac University national poll conducted April 11-17 found that President Barack Obama holds a 10-percentage-point advantage among women surveyed. He was backed by 49 percent, compared with 39 percent for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee. Obama trails slightly with men, with 43 percent supporting him and 46 percent backing Romney.

The funding authorized under the Senate bill is less than the $682.5 million in the previous law, which expired Sept. 30.

“A strong vote here helps the people who want to do the right thing” in the House of Representatives, the legislation’s chief sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in an interview.

House Republican Bill

The House’s version tracks closely with an alternative from Senate Republicans that was defeated yesterday. It would have stripped language in the Senate bill expanding the number of visas available to domestic violence victims who aid criminal investigations.

Representative Gwen Moore, a Wisconsin Democrat, told reporters today that the bill passed by the Senate has “all the elements” to “help all women, despite their immigration status, despite their gender or sexual orientation.”

“That bill ought to be brought up in that form,” said Moore, who has sponsored in the House her own version of legislation reauthorizing the 1994 law. “The inability to bring forth that bill in the House is another example of the gender bias against women.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said in an interview that passage of the Senate bill was a “great victory for women,” with bipartisan support, and she’s “very hopeful” the House will approve it.

The White House strongly backed the Senate measure because it provides services to victims and “improves the prosecution of these crimes,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama, said yesterday in a conference call with reporters. Jarrett wouldn’t say whether Obama would veto a House version of the bill.

Domestic Violence Statistics

According to the White House, incidents of domestic violence have dropped by more than 50 percent since the law first 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 that 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.”

“This should be simple,” he said.

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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