The U.S. House passed legislation that supports funding for programs that fight domestic violence, ending a multiyear debate during which Democrats and Republicans accused each other of caring more about politics than about battered women.
The bill, S. 47, now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature. Obama said in a statement that he looks forward to “signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk.”
The vote on the legislation, which would authorize about $660 million annually over the next five years for programs aimed at preventing domestic violence and sexual assault, was 286-138. The Senate had passed the measure on Feb. 12.
Earlier today, the House rejected, 166-257, a Republican amendment that if adopted would have sent the bill back to the Senate. That language would have rewritten two contentious provisions in the bill -- on sexual orientation and on the authority of American Indian tribal courts to try people who weren’t members of a tribe.
As passed, the bill would specifically prohibit grantees from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It also would allow tribes to try certain non-members who live or work on a reservation if they are accused of assaulting a member on reservation lands.
Under current law, tribes can’t try non-members for domestic-violence crimes committed against a member on a reservation, a situation victims’ rights advocates said led women to not report cases because they thought federal prosecutors, often located hundreds of miles away, would ignore them.
“Domestic violence does not discriminate,” said Representative Rick Larsen, a Democrat from Washington. “And with this bill, domestic-violence protection will no longer discriminate.”
Before the vote, Representative Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican, told her colleagues about an 11-year-old boy, Jahlil Clements, who was killed trying to stop an attack on his mother by her boyfriend. The man was hitting Jahlil’s mother as she was driving; when she pulled over, the boy jumped out and tried to flag down passing cars to stop and help. He was struck by a car whose driver didn’t see him.
“If we don’t intervene, if we don’t find help, if we don’t end this cycle of violence for the Jahlil Clements of this country, we’re doing a great disservice to our country,” said Capito, who urged the House to pass the Senate’s bill instead of her party’s alternative.
First enacted in 1994 with then-Senator -- and current Vice President -- Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat, as its sponsor, the Violence Against Women Act gives the federal government the authority to pay for grants for such things as shelters for domestic-violence victims and police training. The last five-year reauthorization expired in 2011.
The programs would be subject to the automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, scheduled to begin taking effect tomorrow.
Today’s vote will allow Congress to move on to other topics, lawmakers said, and may put to rest the complaints of Democrats who said that last year’s failed effort to renew the law was evidence of a Republican “war on women.”