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VAWA Vote: Senate Rejects GOP Alternative That Omits LGBT, Native American Protections

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VAWA VOTE
Sen. Chuck Grassley listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Feb. 2, 2011. (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images) | Getty Images
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WASHINGTON -- Ahead of a vote on the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill, the Senate on Thursday rejected a Republican alternative that would have stripped out protections for LGBT victims of domestic violence, removed a key protection for Native American women and shifted the overall focus of VAWA away from women and more toward men.

The GOP proposal, put forward by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), failed by a vote of 34 to 65.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was among those voting for the proposal, as was Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), the only female senator out of 20 who isn't cosponsoring the bipartisan VAWA bill.

The Senate is lining up a Monday vote for the bipartisan bill, authored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). It has 62 cosponsors, which essentially ensures its passage.

During remarks on the Senate floor earlier Thursday, Grassley said he planned to vote against the bipartisan VAWA bill over the provision giving tribal courts the ability to prosecute non-Native American men who abuse Native American women on tribal lands. House Republican opposition to that provision is a major reason why VAWA failed to be reauthorized in the last Congress.

"That provision raises serious constitutional questions concerning both the sovereignty of tribal courts and the constitutional rights of defendants who would be tried in these tribal courts," Grassley said.

Currently, federal and state law enforcement authorities have jurisdiction over domestic violence on tribal lands, but in many cases, they are hours away from the scene and lack the resources to respond. Tribal courts, meanwhile, are there and familiar with tribal laws, but lack the jurisdiction to address domestic violence on their land when it is carried out by a non-Native person. The result is that non-Native men who abuse Native women on tribal lands -- something that happens at profoundly high levels -- are effectively immune from the law.

Grassley's proposed bill would address the situation by giving more money to federal prosecutors -- up to $25 million -- to prosecute domestic violence cases on tribal lands. He noted that money would be drawn from other Justice Department grant funds, so it would not be new spending.

But Leahy said the tribal provision in his bipartisan bill is constitutional and trashed Grassley's approach to stemming domestic violence against Native women as ineffective.

Grassley is calling for "taking money from other Department of Justice programs" to impose a "costly, unworkable" process on federal prosecutors who are already spread thin, Leahy said. "It is a cruel charge to victims throughout the country."

Overall, Grassley's proposal is "a poor substitute" for the bipartisan VAWA bill, Leahy continued. "It does not meet the needs of victims of domestic violence or dating violence, sexual assault, stalking."

In addition to stripping out the tribal jurisdiction provision, Grassley's legislation differs in several key ways from Leahy's bill. It would remove the word "women" from VAWA's largest grant program, effectively broadening the scope of the original 1994 law to include male victims of violence, who face far less victimization than their female counterparts. Grassley's proposal would also take out protections for LGBT victims of domestic violence and place new restrictions on U visas, which are given to immigrant victims of domestic violence who help law enforcement officials to identify and prosecute their abusers.

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