Published: February 15, 2013
This week’s 78-to-22 vote in the Senate to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act provided a refreshing demonstration of bipartisanship that the House would do well to emulate. Last year, the Republican-led House blocked the act’s renewal over objections to new protections for gay, immigrant and American Indian victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. It falls to Speaker John Boehner to see that this does not happen again.
The Senate bill would provide services, like shelters and legal help, for abuse victims regardless of their sexual orientation or immigration status. To ease passage in the House, the measure’s lead sponsors, Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, and Michael Crapo, an Idaho Republican, dropped a provision that would have increased the number of visas available for battered women who were undocumented immigrants. Mr. Leahy has said he will push for the increase in future immigration reform efforts.
Other sticking points remain, chiefly the new powers the Senate bill would grant tribal courts, which currently cannot pursue non-Indians who attack Indian women on tribal land. Domestic and sexual violence has been soaring in tribal communities, and the law needs updating to address this prosecutorial gap. The Senate bill requires that criminal defendants in tribal courts be accorded normal constitutional protections. Negotiators are working on possible changes to alleviate Republican concerns about ensuring fair treatment of non-Indian defendants.