Negotiations between the House and Senate over the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization have ground to a halt since House Republicans passed a version of the bill that left out protections for LGBT, Native American and immigrant victims of violence. As Senate Democrats renewed their push to pass their version of the bill Tuesday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said she'd rather not pass a VAWA bill at all than support the House version.
"Currently, the programs are funded," she told reporters at a press conference. "I'm not willing to pass a Violence Against Women bill into law by throwing out the provisions and throwing under the bus Native American women and LGBT members and immigrants who have stood up fought hard [against] what we now know in this country has been a silent problem for too long. We have a responsibility in this country to provide justice for all."
Murray and other Senate Democrats held the Tuesday press conference in an attempt to differentiate between the House and Senate versions of VAWA and discuss how each would affect Native American domestic violence victims. The Senate version would give tribal courts and police jurisdiction over non-Indian domestic violence offenders and strengthen federal authority to address violence on reservations. Current law and the House-passed VAWA bill lack those tribal protections, which Native American rights advocates say allows non-Indian perpetrators to commit violence against native women without repercussions.
"Three out of five native women in our country will be assaulted by their spouses or partners in their lifetimes -- the highest rate of any group of women in this country," said Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii). "Present federal law has created a jurisdictional maze in Indian country, essentially giving non-Indian offenders a free pass for crimes committed against women on reservations. As the House and Senate work together ... I strongly urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support these inclusive provisions, particularly those that will close the jurisdictional loophole that gives a free pass to so many non-native abusers."
House and Senate negotiations over the bills have stalled since the Senate realized one of the provisions in its version raised revenue and was therefore unconstitutional. VAWA then took a backseat to other important bills, despite the fact that reauthorizations passed in both the House and Senate. Now, Senate Democrats are hoping to convince the House to include the Senate language in their bill that includes Native American, LGBT and immigrant protections, while House Republicans blame the Senate for holding up negotiations.
“We passed a good bill that dealt with all the victims, and it went to the Senate, and there it sits along with the Senate bill -- in the Senate," Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.), the sponsor of the House version, told the Hill last week. "So it is up to the Senate to make a decision whether they really want to pass a bill that is for victims, or whether they want to politicize it."
Murray responded to criticism that she and Senate Democrats were politicizing VAWA by pointing out that every female Republican senator voted for the Senate version, while the House version did not have the equivalent bipartisan support from Democrats. She said she and her colleagues are not willing to give the House an inch on this bill.
"There are those who have suggested to us that we take out some of the provisions in the Senate, and we could have a deal tomorrow," she said. "That is not acceptable to me or to many people who have supported the bill out of the Senate."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Sen. Daniel Akaka as from Alaska. He is from Hawaii.
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