Harkin yes, Grassley no as Senate passes Violence Against Women Act

The U.S. Senate approved the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization today by 78 votes to 22 (roll call). All of the no votes came from Senate Republicans. It was "deja vu all over again" for Iowa's senators; just like last year, Democrat Tom Harkin voted to reauthorize the VAWA, while Republican Chuck Grassley voted against the bill. Grassley supports most of the VAWA but objects to a few provisions favored by Senate Democrats. Last week the Senate rejected a substitute bill offered by Grassley.

For more details about the reauthorization and how Iowa's senators voted on other proposed amendments, follow me after the jump.  

Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act for the first time in 1994. The latest authorization expired at the end of September 2011. The new authorization "would authorize $659 million over five years for the programs, down 17 percent from the last reauthorization in 2005."

Ramsey Cox reported for The Hill,

The Senate-version of VAWA reauthorization extends protections for victims of domestic violence to Native Americans, LGBT victims and immigrants.

"A victim of sexual assault or domestic violence is a victim," said Leahy. "A victim is a victim is a victim and violence is violence is violence." [...]

The Senate bill also prohibits discrimination against LGBT victims in grant programs to help victims, and would let illegal immigrants stay in the country to receive help if they are victims of domestic violence or rape.

VAWA provides grants to victims of domestic violence in order to encourage victims to leave their abusive situations. Some feel they can't get away from their abusers because they might not have another form of family income, so the grants can provide housing assistance and cellphones for victims. Under this reauthorization bill, these programs would continue for another five years.

Democrats pointed out that since original passage in 1994, domestic violence rates have fallen by more than 50 percent. They also said 1-in-4 women are victims of domestic violence.

The Senate bill, S. 47, added the SAFER Act, which helps law enforcement agencies address the more than 300,000 rape kits backlogged, waiting to be analyzed across the country.

I'm seeking clarification about that undocumented immigrant provision, because last week Grassley indicated that it had been removed from this year's version of the VAWA.

Grassley and many other Republicans object to the tribal court provisions of this bill, which would allow Native American women who are victims of sexual violence to have the alleged perpetrators tried in tribal courts, even if the accused are not American Indians.

Yesterday Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma offered an amendment to remove the tribal court section of the bill. But only 39 Republicans voted for his amendment, including Grassley. Harkin was among the 59 senators who rejected that amendment.

The Senate considered several other amendments today before the vote on final passage.

- Sen. Patrick Leahy's (D-Vt.) amendment would reauthorize appropriations for fiscal years 2014 through 2017 for the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, to enhance measures to combat human trafficking.

- Sen. Rob Portman's (R-Ohio) amendment would ensure that child victims of sex trafficking also have access to grants provided by VAWA, including educational services aimed to protect young victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

- Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R-Alaska) amendment is a technical correction that would clarify that in Alaska, Native American tribal jurisdiction would be for the Metla Katla tribe, which is the only tribe with land in Alaska despite other tribes residing in the state.

- Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) amendment would consolidate duplicative programs within the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Coburn said his amendment would save at least $600 million that could be used to more quickly resolve rape cases by addressing the backlog of rape kit testing.

- Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) amendment would encourage states to test convicted rapists for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) so that victims know if they need to seek treatment. If states refused to make such an adjustment to their laws, they would receive 20 percent less in VAWA grants. The amendment would also help provide the necessary treatment to the victims if they were at risk of infection.

Murkowski's amendment passed by voice vote today, and Portman's amendment passed by a rare 100 to 0 roll call vote.

Leahy's amendment passed by 93 votes to 5, with both Grassley and Harkin voting yes. I have no idea why five Republicans opposed that amendment, but for the record, they were Mike Lee of Utah, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Tom Coburn and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

The Coburn amendment on consolidating what he called duplicative programs failed with only 46 yes votes and 53 "nays." Grassley supported that amendment, while Harkin opposed it.

The last Coburn amendment failed by a similar 43 to 57 vote. Again, Grassley voted yes, and Harkin voted no.

Harkin co-sponsored the VAWA reauthorization and released this statement today:

"This issue is seemingly nonpartisan - a critical effort to give law enforcement and victims' services the tools they need to prevent domestic violence and protect women in Iowa and across the country.  Yet despite the progress in moving this bill through the Senate, it has languished in the House over political objections.  What my colleagues should recognize is that it is an outrage when any person is a victim of domestic violence.  I urge the House, under Republican leadership, to take up and pass the Senate's bipartisan bill because all individuals deserve protection of the law."

I haven't seen any new statement from Grassley about his votes, but I'll update this post as needed.

The LGBT advocacy group One Iowa sharply criticized Grassley in this press release today:

(Des Moines, IA)-Today Senator Chuck Grassley joined 21 other Senators in voting against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA is a federal law that provides resources and funding for programs and services to those affected by domestic violence, including transitional and legal assistance, law enforcement training, hotlines, and more. The bill provides specific protections for same-sex partners and LGBT survivors of domestic abuse in spite of federal law that continues to deny recognition to same-sex couples.  

Earlier this month, Senator Grassley introduced sweeping amendments to VAWA that stripped protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) survivors, along with undocumented workers, and survivors living on tribal lands. Today, VAWA passed the Senate with a vote of 78 to 22. The bill now heads to the United States House of Representatives for a vote.

In response to Senator Grassley's vote against VAWA and his proposed amendments to this bill, One Iowa Executive Director Donna Red Wing issued the following statement:

"One Iowa is paying close attention to the vote to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act because the bill provides crucial protections for members of the LGBT community and recognition of the sometimes painful realities that same-sex couples face. Senator Grassley attempted to strip the most vulnerable members of our society from the bill, and was not successful, so he outright opposed the legislation. As an organization committed to justice, we will not forget his egregious actions and his blatant disregard for the safety of LGBT people, including many Iowans. We now look to our Representatives in the House for leadership and will take note of their votes on this important piece of legislation."

UPDATE: Grassley never did released a statement after this bill passed, but here's the statement he delivered on the Senate floor  when the chamber took up the bill last week.

The Motion to Proceed to the Violence Against Women Act

Prepared Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley

The Motion to Proceed to the Violence Against Women Act

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Mr. President, there has long been bipartisan support for the Violence Against Women Act.  Too many women are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence.  Federal support for services to these women, and sometimes men, has been beneficial to our country.      

I support many of the provisions in the majority bill.  There are consolidations of grants, cyberstalking, rural programs, assistance for individuals with disabilities, older victims, housing protections, and numerous others that I wholeheartedly support.

There is overwhelming bipartisan support for 98 percent of what is contained in S. 47.  

The process on VAWA in the 112th Congress was very disappointing.  Previously, VAWA was reauthorized unanimously.  When new provisions were added, they were consensus items.  The law was then reauthorized by consensus.

Something similar could have happened again.  But it didn't.  New provisions were forced into the bill.  Some were controversial. Some raised serious constitutional concerns.  But those on the other side insisted on these provisions without any change and refused to compromise.  

It appeared that the debate was more about blame and politics than it was about providing help to women in need.

Last Congress, both the Republican leader and myself offered that the Senate consent to striking a provision that violated the Constitution's Origination Clause and then proceeding to conference.  The majority spurned those efforts on both occasions.  Yet today, S. 47 has removed the provision that raised the blue slip problem with the House.  

It does this only a few months after the majority refused to drop it and proceed to conference.  The willingness of the majority today to eliminate that unconstitutional provision demonstrates that we could have had a bill last year.  That is a terrible disappointment.

It is not true that unless S. 47 is passed exactly as is, various groups will be excluded from protections under the law.  

Current law protects all victims.  

Vice President Biden wrote the current law.  Every member of the Senate who was a member of this body when the Violence Against Women Act last was reauthorized voted for that bill.  Neither Vice President Biden nor any other senator passed a discriminatory bill then.  

It is not the case that unless the controversial provisions are accepted exactly as the majority insists without any compromise whatsoever that any groups will be excluded.

Mr. President, the key stumbling block to enacting a bill at this time is the provision concerning Indian tribal courts.  

That provision raises serious constitutional questions concerning both the sovereignty of tribal courts and the constitutional rights of defendants who would be tried in those courts.  We should focus on providing needed services to Native American women.  S. 47 makes political statements and expounds on Native American sovereignty.  

It raises such significant constitutional problems that its passage might actually not accomplish anything at all for Native American women, while failing to protect the constitutional rights of other American citizens.  

Even the Congressional Research Service has raised constitutional questions with the tribal provisions in this bill.  

I hope that whatever the Senate might do today, that negotiations on these questions will continue.  

I'm confident that if we can reach agreement on these questions, compromises on the other few remaining issues can also be secured, allowing a bill to pass with overwhelming bipartisan support.  

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