Harkin yes, Grassley no on reauthorizing Violence Against Women Act

The U.S. Senate voted today to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. All 53 members of the Democratic caucus voted for the bill, including Senator Tom Harkin. Fifteen Republican senators, including all five women, also voted yes. Chuck Grassley was one of the 31 Republican men who voted no.

Details on today’s votes and substantive changes to the Violence Against Women Act are after the jump, along with a lengthy floor statement by Grassley explaining his preference for a “consensus” measure over what he called a “political exercise” by Democrats.

The Violence Against Women Act was first approved in 1994 as part of a broader crime bill. Then Senator Joe Biden was the key sponsor of the legislation. Then Iowa Attorney General Bonnie Campbell helped Biden write the bill, and after she lost the 1994 gubernatorial election to Terry Branstad, President Bill Clinton appointed her to lead the U.S. Department of Justice’s new Violence Against Women Policy Office. Republican-controlled Congresses reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act in 2000 and 2005. The authorization expired in late 2011.

Grassley is the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the new reauthorization bill was drafted. He indicated last week that Republicans would not filibuster the bill. But in a floor statement today, which I enclose in full below, Grassley complained about new provisions Democrats included.

In the Judiciary Committee, the Majority gave no notice that it would inject new matters into the Violence Against Women Act.  When the Committee held a hearing on VAWA, these ideas were not discussed.  Their need has not been demonstrated.  We do not know exactly how they will work.  It was clear that Committee Republicans would not be able to agree to this new added material.  The majority refused during negotiations when we asked that they be removed.

           Republicans will be offering a substitute amendment to the Leahy bill.  Probably 80 to 85 percent of the substitute we’re offering is the same.  This includes whole titles of the bill.

We could have again reached a near consensus bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.  But the majority intentionally decided not to change the bill.  They didn’t want it to pass with an overwhelming bipartisan majority.

The Human Rights Campaign blog summarized a few of the controversial new provisions.

The VAWA reauthorization bill passed by the Senate strengthens essential services for LGBT victims of domestic violence in three key ways. First, the bill ensures that all programs or activities receiving funding from VAWA provide services regardless of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Second, it explicitly includes the LGBT community in the largest VAWA grant program, the “STOP Grant Program,” which provides funding to care providers who collaborate with prosecution and law enforcement officials to address domestic violence. Finally, the bill establishes a grant program specifically aimed at providing services and outreach to underserved populations, including those who face obstacles to care based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Daniel Strauss of The Hill described other contentious points:

[Republicans] opposed an increase in visas for victims of domestic violence seeking protection who are illegal immigrants, as well as broadened authority for Native American communities to fight domestic violence and sexual assaults. Republican senators also disagreed with language in the bill that prohibited discrimination of domestic violence victims because of their sexual orientation.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), an opponent of the bill, said it was an overreach of federal authority.

“Everyone agrees that against women is reprehensible,” Lee said. “The Violence Against Women Act reauthorization has the honorable goal of assisting victims of domestic violence but it oversteps the Constitution’s rightful limits on federal power.

“It interferes with the flexibility of states and localities that they should have in tailoring programs to meet particular needs of individual communities,” he said. “And it fails to address problems of duplication and inefficiency.”

Senators rejected three proposed amendments to the bill today.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) amendment to set a minimum amount for rape kit testing funds failed in a 57 — 41 vote, while a similar measure from Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) that increased funding but did not set a minimum amount failed 50-48. Cornyn’s bill also would have established a forensic registry for sexual assaults.

Harkin voted for Klobuchar’s amendment, while Grassley opposed it.

Grassley voted for Cornyn’s amendment, while Harkin opposed it.

Then senators voted on the substitute amendment Grassley describes in the floor statement below. He was one of 37 Republicans to support that amendment; the other nine Republicans present voted with the entire Democratic caucus against it.

Then senators approved final passage of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization by 68 votes to 31 (roll call).

The U.S. House hasn’t taken up the Violence Against Women Act yet. The new provisions cleared by the Senate certainly won’t find favor with House Republicans, and I don’t think it reflects well on the GOP that these ideas are deal-breakers. But given the prevailing Republican sentiments, it could be quite some time before Congress agrees on language to reauthorize this program. The good news is, as Grassley noted today, “Appropriators can fund VAWA programs regardless of whether VAWA is reauthorized.”

Share any relevant comments in this thread.

Prepared Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley

Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee

Opening Remarks, The Violence Against Women Act

Thursday, April 26, 2012

           Mr. President, I have seen the good that the law has done in providing victims services in Iowa.  We all recognize the harms that flow from domestic violence.  It’s both on the victims and on victims’ families.

I have supported reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act each time that it has come up.  VAWA reauthorization on each of these occasions has been bipartisan.  We have passed consensus bills.  We have not played politics with reauthorizing this law.

           Until now.  This time, it’s different.  The majority turned this issue into a partisan bill.

In the Judiciary Committee, the Majority gave no notice that it would inject new matters into the Violence Against Women Act.  When the Committee held a hearing on VAWA, these ideas were not discussed.  Their need has not been demonstrated.  We do not know exactly how they will work.  It was clear that Committee Republicans would not be able to agree to this new added material.  The majority refused during negotiations when we asked that they be removed.

           Republicans will be offering a substitute amendment to the Leahy bill.  Probably 80 to 85 percent of the substitute we’re offering is the same.  This includes whole titles of the bill.

We could have again reached a near consensus bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.  But the majority intentionally decided not to change the bill.  They didn’t want it to pass with an overwhelming bipartisan majority.

           Now the media has reported that this was the deliberate strategy of the majority.  A recent Politico article quoted a prominent Democrat senator.

The article said that he “wants to fast track the bill to the floor, let the GOP block it, then allow Democrats to accuse Republicans of waging a ‘war against women.’”

This is the cynical, partisan game-playing that Americans are sick of.  This is especially the case here.

Republicans aren’t even blocking the bill.  We’ve called for the bill to be brought up. Instead the majority has taken 6 months to reauthorize this program that expired last October. That says something about the majority’s priorities.  For instance, last week we wasted time on political votes.  That seems to be the case in the Senate most of the year.

The Senate can pass a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act by an overwhelming margin.  It seems like the other party doesn’t want that to happen.  When they say unfavorable things about Republicans and women, they aren’t being forthright.

           A few weeks ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a fundraising email.

The email stated in part, “Now, there are news reports that Republicans in Congress will oppose re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act.  Enough is enough!  The Republican War on Women must be stopped NOW…. Will you chip in $3 by midnight tonight to hold Republicans accountable for their War on Women?”

The majority had a decision between raising money for campaigns or trying to get a VAWA reauthorization bill that would help victims.

My fellow Senators:  There is no “War on Women,” except the political one.  It’s a figment of imagination of Democratic strategists who don’t want to remember health care reform, unemployment and high gas prices.  All evidence points to the other side being more interested in raising money.  The media has also reported that the bill is coming up now because the Democrats’ desire to gin up a Republican so-called war on women were derailed last week.

           It should be clear at the outset that Republicans are not blocking, have not blocked, and never threatened to block the Senate’s consideration of this bill.  The Judiciary Committee only reported the bill to the Senate in January.  It was March before it filed its Committee report in the Senate.  Democrats immediately came to the floor and urged the bill to come up.  It was up to the Majority Leader to decide when the bill should be debated.  He’s finally decided that now is the time.

As long as there is a fair process for offering amendments, including our alternative bill, and pointing out the flaws in the majority’s bill, this should be a relatively short process.  

           Several other important points should be established.

First, I hope a consensus version of VAWA will be reauthorized.  If a consensus bill doesn’t pass, no rights of women or anyone else will be affected if a bill does not pass.  Contrary to statements made, there would be no cutbacks of services.  VAWA is an authorization bill only.  It does not provide one dime of money.  That result occurs through the appropriations process.  Appropriators can fund VAWA programs regardless of whether VAWA is reauthorized.  This is exactly what they did last year.

We think that new issues have arisen since the last VAWA reauthorization. These issues should be addressed in a consensus reauthorization bill.  That can happen.  We should give guidance to the appropriators.  I support the appropriators continuing to fund VAWA while we’re trying to put together a consensus bill.  VAWA is being funded despite the expiration of its previous authorization.  No existing rights of anyone are affected if VAWA is not reauthorized.  No existing rights of anyone are affected if we pass a consensus bill rather than the majority’s bill.

           Second, the majority controls how bills move in the Senate.  As I said, the current VAWA reauthorization expired six months ago.  If VAWA reauthorization was so important, the Democrats could have moved to reauthorize this bill months ago.  They didn’t move a bill because no one’s substantive rights or funding are stake.  This is true even though the prior reauthorization has expired and a new reauthorization bill has not yet passed.

           Third, nothing like the majority’s bill, where it does not reflect consensus, will become law.  It’s a political exercise only.  The other body will not pass it.  If we want to pass a consensus VAWA reauthorization bill, we ought to start with the Republican alternative.

           Fourth, the majority’s bill, as reported out of Committee, was fiscally irresponsible. According to the Congressional Budget Office the majority’s bill would have added more than $100 million in new direct spending.  That will increase the deficit by that same amount.  The reason is the immigration provisions that we said were non-starters.  These were some of the provisions that the majority refused to take out.  Those provisions are bad immigration policy.  Nonetheless, I am glad that the majority has now found an offset for this spending.

           The Republican alternative does more to protect the rights of victims of domestic violence and sex crimes than does the majority bill.  There are many ways in which this is so.

           Under the substitute amendment, more money goes to victims and less to bureaucrats.  It requires that 10 percent of grantees be audited every year.  This is to ensure that taxpayer funds are actually being used to combat domestic violence.

This is an important point.  The Justice Department Inspector General conducted a review of 22 VAWA grantees from 1998 to 2010.  Of these 22 audits, 21 were found to have some form of violation of grant requirements.  The violations range from unauthorized and unallowable expenditures, to sloppy recordkeeping and failure to report in a timely manner.

In 2010, one grantee was found by the Inspector General to have questionable costs for 93 percent of the nearly $900,000 they received from the Justice Department.  A 2009 audit found that nearly $500,000 of a $680,000 grant was questionable.

The fiscal irregularities continue.

An Inspector General audit from just this year found that a VAWA grant recipient in the Virgin Islands engaged in almost $850,000 in questionable spending.  Also a grant to an Indian tribe in Idaho found about $250,000 in improperly spent funds.  This includes $171,000 in salary for an unapproved position.  In Michigan this year, a woman at a VAWA grant recipient used grant funds to purchase goods and services for her personal use.  

We should make sure that VAWA money goes to the victims.  That hasn’t been the case under the current situation.

The Republican substitute also prevents grantees from using taxpayer funds to lobby for more taxpayer funds.  That will ensure that more money is available for victim services.  Money that goes to grantees and is squandered helps no women or other victims.

           In addition, the Republican alternative limits the amount of VAWA funds that can go to administrative fees and salaries to 7.5 percent.  The Leahy bill contains no such limit.  If you want the money to go to victims and not bureaucrats, those overhead expenses should be capped.

           The Republican substitute amendment requires that 30 percent of STOP grants and grants for arrest policies and protection orders are targeted on sexual assault.  The Leahy-Crapo bill sets aside only 20 percent for sexual assault.

           The Hutchison-Grassley substitute requires that training materials be approved by an outside accredited organization.  This ensures that those who address domestic violence help victims based on knowledge and not ideology.  That will result in more effective assistance to victims.  The Leahy-Crapo bill contains no such requirement.

           The Hutchison-Grassley substitute protects due process rights that the majority bill threatens.  For instance, the majority bill said that college campuses must provide for “prompt and equitable investigation and resolution” of charges of violence or stalking.  This would have codified a proposed rule of the Department of Education that would have required imposition of a civil standard or preponderance of the evidence for what is essentially a criminal charge, one that if proved, rightfully should harm reputation.  But if established on a barely more probable than not standard, reputations can be ruined unfairly.

The substitute eliminates this provision.  Now, the majority has changed their own bill’s language.  I take that as an implicit recognition of the injustice of the original language.

The substitute also eliminates a provision that allowed the victim who could not prove such a charge to appeal if she lost, creating a kind of double jeopardy.

           The majority bill also would give Indian tribal courts the ability to issue protection orders and full civil jurisdiction over non-Indians based on actions allegedly taken in Indian Country. Noting that the Due Process Clause requires that courts exercise jurisdiction over only those persons who have “minimum contacts” with the forum, the Congressional Research Service has raised constitutional questions about this provision.

The Administration and its supporters in this body pursue their policy agenda headlong without bothering to consider the Constitution.  The substitute contains provisions that would benefit tribal women and would not run afoul of the Constitution.

           We have heard a lot of talk about how important the rape kit provisions in the Judiciary Committee bill are.  I strongly support funds to reduce the backlog in testing rape kits.  But that bill provides that only 40 percent of the rape kit money actually be used to reduce the backlog.  The substitute ensures that 70 percent of the funding will go to that purpose.  It requires that 1 percent of Debbie Smith Act funds be used to create a national database to track the rape kit backlog.  It also mandates that 7 percent of the existing Debbie Smith Act funds be used to pay for state and local audits of the backlog.  Debbie Smith, herself, has endorsed these provisions.  The majority bill has no such provisions.  Making sure that money that is claimed to reduce the rape kit backlog actually does so is pro-victim.  True reform in VAWA reauthorization should further that goal.

           Combating violence against women also means tougher penalties for those who commit these terrible crimes.  The Hutchison-Grassley substitute creates a 10 year mandatory minimum sentence for federal convictions for forcible rape.  The majority bill establishes a 5 year mandatory minimum sentence.  That provision is only there because Republicans offered it and won it in Committee.

           Child pornography is an actual record of a crime scene of violence against women.  Our alternative establishes a 1 year mandatory minimum sentence for possession of child pornography where the victim depicted is under 12 years of age.

I believe that the mandatory minimum for this crime should be higher.  In light of the lenient sentences that many federal judges hand out, there should be a mandatory minimum sentence for all child pornography possession convictions.  But the substitute is a start.

This is especially true because the majority bill takes no action against child pornography.  The alternative also imposes a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence for the crime of aggravated sexual assault.  This crime involves sexual assault through the use of drugs or by otherwise rendering the victim unconscious.  The Leahy bill does nothing about aggravated sexual assault.

The status quo appears to be fine for the other side.

           The Hutchison-Grassley amendment establishes a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for the crime of interstate domestic violence that results in the death of the victim.  It increases from 20 to 25 years the statutory maximum sentence for the crime where it results in life threatening bodily injury to, or the permanent disfigurement of, the victim.  It increases from 10 to 15 years the statutory maximum sentence for this crime when serious bodily injury to the victim results.  The Leahy bill contains none of these important protections for domestic violence victims.

           The substitute grants administrative subpoena power to the U.S. Marshals Service to help them discharge their duty of tracking and apprehending unregistered sex offenders.  The Leahy bill does nothing to help locate and apprehend unregistered sex offenders.

           And the substitute cracks down on abuse in the award of U visas for illegal aliens and the fraud in the VAWA self-petitioning process.  The majority bill does not include any reform of these benefits, despite actual evidence of fraud in this program.

           One of the senators who recently came to the floor complained that there had never been controversy in reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.  But in the past, there were not deliberate efforts to create partisan divisions.  We always proceeded in a consensus fashion.

Domestic violence is an important issue and a serious problem.  We all recognize that.

In the past, we put victims ahead of politics in addressing it.  When the other side says this should not be about politics or partisanship, we agree.

It’s the majority that has now decided that they want to score political points above assisting victims.  They want to portray a phony war on women because this is an election year.  They’re raising campaign money by trying to exploit this issue.  There could have been a consensus bill before us today as in the past.  There is controversy now because that’s what the majority seems to want.

           We look forward to a fair debate on this bill and the chance to offer and vote on our substitute amendment.  That amendment contains much that is in agreement with the Leahy bill.  The substitute also is much closer to what can actually be enacted into law to protect victims of domestic violence.

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