The U.S. House voted 244 to 172 on March 17 to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) with some new provisions. All Democrats present, including Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03), were joined by 29 Republicans, including Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), to send the bill to the U.S. Senate. Republican Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01) and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) opposed the legislation.
Congress enacted VAWA as part of the 1994 crime bill and has expanded its scope on several occasions. The version approved in 2013 lapsed in 2019, and while some funding for its programs has continued, the current bill would go further. Li Zhou reported for Vox,
In the latest reauthorization, lawmakers aim to strengthen protections for women facing sexual violence by ensuring that non-tribal offenders on tribal lands can be held accountable, and by closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” which would bar anyone convicted of stalking from obtaining a firearm. Additionally, the bill includes funds for housing vouchers, so survivors in federally-assisted housing are able to relocate quickly if they need to. It guarantees, too, that people will be able to obtain unemployment insurance if they have to leave a job because of concerns for their safety.
The bill also includes more funding for rape prevention and education as well as funding to "specifically tailor programs to the needs of communities of color, including improving language access."
The House approved a similar reauthorization bill in 2019 with support from all Democrats and 33 Republicans. But it stalled in the Senate, where it needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. Iowa's Senator Joni Ernst was charged with leading the VAWA effort in the last Congress, but she failed to hammer out a deal.
Colby Itkowitz and Marianna Sotomayor reported for the Washington Post on March 17,
Republican opposition to the bill revolves in part around closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” which adds dating partners and stalkers to the provision banning spouses of convicted domestic violence or abuse from owning firearms.
The National Rifle Association is opposed to the extending the ban, and Republicans have opposed the broader VAWA legislation over it, arguing that it is a ploy by Democrats to erode Second Amendment rights.
Speaking to reporters on March 16, Ernst indicated that the GOP caucus is still unwilling to cross the NRA on this bill: "Certainly we ran into hiccups with some of the gun issues, and that’s a big one for a number of us, stripping away people’s constitutional rights is not something that we should be doing."
In a written statement enclosed in full below, Axne noted that Iowa's “volunteers, shelters, and support networks have been working with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors without the full funding and support they deserve from Congress for over two years – and this past year of public health and economic challenges have removed even more safety nets while increasing the need for support."
Miller-Meeks did not release a statement about the VAWA or mention this vote on her social media feeds. Similarly, Feenstra didn't publicly comment on his opposition to the reauthorization.
Hinson's news release (also enclosed below) touted her support for a Republican alternative bill, which she described as a "clean" reauthorization without "partisan additions." While Hinson criticized Democrats for advancing what she called "a partisan version" of VAWA, she didn't address the elephant in the room: in this polarized environment, 29 GOP votes for a Democratic proposal is by definition a successful bipartisan effort.
Earlier on March 17, Iowa's U.S. House members split along party lines as every Democrat present and four Republicans voted to remove the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which guarantees equal protection for women. Iowa was among the first group of states to ratify that amendment in 1972, with broad support in both parties. Congress originally required the amendment to be ratified in three-fourths of states 1979, then pushed the date to 1982. In recent years, three more states have ratified the ERA, leading to the current push to extend the deadline again.
Feenstra and Miller-Meeks did not explain their votes against the ERA. Republicans who spoke during the floor debate asserted the bill was itself unconstitutional and objected that it could be construed to guarantee a woman's right to an abortion. Hinson's statement echoed those points, claiming the bill would "expand taxpayer-funded abortion access nationwide."
Iowa's delegation has agreed on several recent House actions. On the evening of March 17, all four Iowans were part of the 384 to 38 majority that approved funding for various assistance programs for survivors of violent crimes. Statements from Feenstra, Axne, and Hinson explained that legislation in more detail.
Earlier the same day, the House approved "a resolution to award three Congressional Gold Medals to the Capitol Police, the D.C. police and the Smithsonian Institution," recognizing their actions during the January 6 coup attempt. I was relieved to find no Iowa names among the twelve Republicans who opposed that resolution.
On March 16, Iowa's House members were part of the 415 to 3 majority that approved an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program. Over the past year, PPP loans have helped many small businesses and nonprofits keep employees on the payroll despite disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
March 17 statement from Representative Cindy Axne on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act:
Axne, Bipartisan House Vote to Revive Violence Against Women Act
House passed legislation today to increase protections, support for survivors of abuse
WASHINGTON – Today, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) joined a bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives to revive the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), legislation to increase support and protections for programs for victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, as well as stalking and human trafficking.
“Our volunteers, shelters, and support networks have been working with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors without the full funding and support they deserve from Congress for over two years – and this past year of public health and economic challenges have removed even more safety nets while increasing the need for support,” said Rep. Axne. “Iowa’s communities have stepped up to fill that need even as they are struggling financially, but they shouldn’t be left without the help Congress has provided for over 20 years. When I worked at the State of Iowa, I worked with the Crime Victims Assistance Unit at the Attorney General’s office and saw firsthand what happens when Iowa’s local and state agencies don’t have the resources they need. I’ve supported this legislation since my first day in office, and I’m committed to seeing it reauthorized as soon as possible.”
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 also includes reauthorization and increased funding for critical Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors (STOP) grants, a $60 million investment that Rep. Axne successfully advocated to increase in 2019.
The STOP Formula Grant Program is awarded to states to enhance the capacity of local communities to strengthen strategies to combat violent crimes against women and to develop and strengthen victim services in cases involving violent crimes against women.
“I know that our domestic violence support networks need increased support. These grants not only help local law enforcement agencies stop these despicable crimes, but they also ensure we’re protecting and supporting survivors,” said Rep. Axne. “The increases for the STOP grant program that I pushed for are included in this bill to provide the proper tools and resources needed to better address, combat and prosecute violence against women.”
The landmark Violence Against Women Act of 1994 codified Congress’s commitment to advancing effective strategies for preventing and responding to domestic and sexual violence, holding offenders accountable, and ensuring safety, autonomy, and justice for victims.
VAWA guaranteed legal protections for women who have experienced domestic and sexual violence. It was initially passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000, 2005 and 2013. The bill expired at the end of 2018 and was briefly renewed by a resolution reopening the government, but expired again in February 2019.
In April 2019, Rep. Axne and a bipartisan House voted to reauthorize VAWA programs – but the measure was not passed in the Senate.
VAWA reauthorization has the support of more than 200 advocacy organizations, including the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Break the Cycle, Legal Momentum, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Organization for Women, MomsRising, Feminist Majority, YWCA USA, AAUW, Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, National Partnership for Women and Families, National Women’s Law Center, National Association of Hispanic Organizations, AFL-CIO, UAW, NAACP, Human Rights Campaign, National Council of Churches, and National Congress of American Indians.
Statement from Axne on the Equal Rights Amendment:
Rep. Axne Reaffirms Support for Women’s Equality with Vote to Enable Ratification of Equal Rights Amendment
House voted today to remove time limit on states’ ratification of constitutional amendment preventing sex-based discrimination
WASHINGTON – Today, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) backed legislation aimed at ensuring constitutional equal rights for women by removing the time limit for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
“I am proud to join my colleagues to affirm that women have been intentionally left out of the Constitution for far too long,” said Rep. Axne. “Suffragette Alice Paul first introduced the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923, and women are still waiting nearly 100 years later for equal protection under the law. Today, women are still paid less for our work, often overlooked for promotions, are less likely receive business loans and to own our own businesses. If the discrimination we’re still fighting hasn’t expired, then neither should our efforts to see the ERA added to the Constitution.”
Under Article V of the Constitution, an amendment to the Constitution needs to be proposed by two-thirds of the Congress and ratified by the legislatures of three-quarters of the states.
In 1972, Congress advanced the ERA and set a seven-year time limit for the needed two-thirds (38) states to ratify the amendment. The time limit was extended by Congress to 1982, but elapsed with only 35 states having ratified the amendment.
In 2020, Virginia became the 38th and final state needed to ratify the ERA – following Nevada in 2017 and Illinois in 2018 – which would create additional legal avenues for people who face discrimination under the law on the basis of sex, and allow the Supreme Court to apply the highest of standards when reviewing sex discrimination cases. It would also give Congress the power to enforce that equality of rights under the law are not abridged by the United States or any state on the account of sex.
Congress has the authority to strike the time limit, just as it had the authority to extend the limit in 1979. Article V of the U.S. Constitution does not include time limits for the ratification process.
The State of Iowa ratified the ERA on March 24, 1972.
Statement from Axne on the Victims of Crime Act fix:
House Passes Axne-Backed Bill to Bolster Resources for Crime Victims
Axne previously urged congressional leaders to ensure strong funding for grant programs under the Victims of Crime Act
WASHINGTON – Today, the House advanced bipartisan legislation, the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021, originally cosponsored by Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) to make critical improvements to victim services programs that receive grant funding through Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). These programs offer direct compensation and services to those who have been impacted by crimes like domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, trafficking, and more.
VOCA grants come from the Crime Victims Fund (CVF), which uses no taxpayer dollars and is instead funded by federal criminal monetary penalties. However, CVF deposits have dropped recently as a result of changes in policies at the Department of Justice, threatening cuts to grants that fund victim service and compensation programs, including help paying lost wages, medical bills, and funeral and burial expenses.
“Victim assistance and compensation programs offer critical resources – including financial resources – for Iowans who have been the victim of serious crimes. The need for these services has outpaced recent funding, and cutting these critical supports during a global pandemic would only hurt our communities,” said Rep. Axne. “I am proud to have supported this straightforward fix that will prevent disastrous cuts to VOCA, shore up the CVF, and offer much-needed flexibility for states and victim service providers looking to help those in need.”
Specifically, the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021 would:
Require DOJ to deposit all monetary penalties, including those from deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements, into the CVF.
Strengthen state victim compensation funds by increasing the grant calculation for victim compensation programs from 60% to 75% of state-funded payouts.
Require state VOCA administrators to waive the 20% match requirement for victim service subgrantees until one year after the end of the pandemic. State VOCA administrators would also be permitted to create a procedure to waive these requirements at their discretion after the initial waiver period expires.
Allow states to request a no-cost extension from the Attorney General to ensure they can effectively use victim service grants without fear of penalty.
Provide flexibility for state compensation programs to waive the requirement to promote victim cooperation with law enforcement for good cause.
Last December, Rep. Axne urged congressional leadership to ensure VOCA programs did not face funding cuts by expanding deposits to the CVF and ensuring those deposits would be made available to victim service providers.
March 17 statement from Representative Ashley Hinson on the Violence Against Women Act:
Hinson Supports Clean VAWA Reauthorization, Rejects Partisan Additions
Washington, D.C. - Congresswoman Hinson released the following statement supporting the clean extension of the Violence Against Women Act, which Democrats rejected today.
"I voted in favor of the Violence Against Women Extension Act, of which I am a proud cosponsor. This bill would extend the current, bipartisan version of the Violence Against Women Act that provides critical services to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Unfortunately, Democrats rejected this effort and instead advanced a partisan version of the legislation. Supporting victims of violent crimes shouldn't be a partisan issue, and I hope to work in a bipartisan manner going forward to provide resources to women and children who have endured domestic or sexual abuse."
Hinson statement on the Equal Rights Amendment:
Hinson Statement on Moving the ERA Deadline
Washington, D.C. - Congresswoman Hinson released the following statement on legislation that would remove the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
"I am disappointed that I didn’t have the opportunity to consider a modern, updated version of the Equal Rights Amendment. The premise behind today's resolution was Constitutionally unsound and would actually undermine women's rights and the progress we have made since the 1970s. This legislation would also expand taxpayer-funded abortion access nationwide. I will continue to fight for all women and girls – including those not yet born."
Hinson statement on Crime Victims Fund Act:
Hinson Co-Sponsored Bill to Provide Resources to Victims of Violent Crimes in Iowa Passes House
Washington, D.C. - Congresswoman Ashley Hinson (R-IA) released the following statement applauding House passage of the the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021.
"I am proud to support legislation that will keep the crime victims fund afloat. The Crime Victims Fund provides essential services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and other horrific crimes. Unfortunately, the Crime Victims Fund in Iowa is projected to hit a decade low by the end of this year. This bill will ensure that those who have suffered from unthinkable crimes have the resources they need to recover physically and emotionally."
Statement from Representative Randy Feenstra on the crime victims funding bill:
Bill to Shore Up the Crime Victims Fund Passes House
Feenstra is an original cosponsor of the bipartisan, bicameral VOCA Fix Act of 2021
WASHINGTON -- Today, H.R. 1652, the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021, passed the House with broad bipartisan support. Rep. Randy Feenstra (IA-04) was an original cosponsor of this bipartisan, bicameral legislation, which aims to improve the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) by making updates to the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) that provides crime victims with much-needed assistance and compensation.
“I am pleased this commonsense legislation received bipartisan support from my colleagues,” said Rep. Feenstra. “It is unacceptable that deposits into the Crime Victims Fund have been declining, and addressing this has become even more pressing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. By preventing future cuts to the CVF, survivors of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, human trafficking and other crimes will have a reliable, sustainable resource for getting the assistance they need and deserve.”
The CVF is funded through federal criminal penalties, but deposits have dropped over the past several years. This is in part due to penalties being deposited into the general fund of the Treasury, and then they are not properly routed and deposited into the CVF. This decrease in funds has resulted in cuts to victim service providers. Among other things, this bill would require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to deposit all deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreement monetary penalties into the CVF.
In 2020, all 56 State and Territorial Attorneys General sent a letter to Congress in support of implementing these updates. The VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021 is supported by more than 1,670 national, regional, state, territorial, and local organizations, including: the National Children’s Alliance, the National Criminal Justice Association, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National District Attorneys Association, and the National Association of Victim Assistance Administrators.