I have a serious question here: why are House Republicans picking yet another fight over renewal of the Violence Against Women Act? Rather than passing the bi-partisan supported Senate version of the bill, House Republicans continue to push an alternate version that strips out key protections and targets Native American victims of abuse.
The GOP version of the bill was quietly posted on the House Rules Committee website as though lawmakers were literally trying to sneak their version through without anyone noticing.
How bad is the House version of VAWA-renewal? For starters, the House GOP bill entirely leaves out provisions aimed at helping LGBT victims of domestic violence, insisting in its very framing that domestic violence is something that only effects heterosexual couples. The House GOP version removes “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the list of underserved populations who face barriers to accessing victim services. The effect of that definitional change is to disqualify LGBT victims from benefits of grant programs structured to help victims move on to a live away from their abusers.
House Republicans don’t just target LGBT victims by cutting off dollars to specific grants. Their bill also eliminates a requirement in the Senate bill that programs that receive funding under VAWA provide services regardless of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Last but not least, the bill excludes the LGBT community from the STOP program, the largest of the VAWA grant programs. The STOP program gives funds to care providers who work with law enforcement officials to address domestic violence and is widely considered one of the most effective intervention arms of VAWA.
House Republicans don’t just want to take protections away from LGBT victims of domestic violence. Nope. They’re targeting Native American victims as well. Under the Senate bill, tribal courts would gain expanded authority to prosecute non-Native American men who abuse Native American women on reservations. House Republicans had objected to expanding jurisdiction of tribal courts, arguing there was no way for non-Native American abusers to expect a fair trial in tribal courts. On this point conservatives blink, just a bit. Their version grants that authority to tribal courts but adds an amendment that would allow those cases to be removed to a federal court if the accused believes their constitutional rights aren’t being upheld.
The House still has to debate and vote on this latest version, which means there’s still plenty of time for conservatives to make it worse. Importantly, the House version of the bill is still light years away from the Senate version, which means an actual compromise isn’t happening soon. When will conservatives tire of playing politics with women’s lives, and when will the public let them know that putting domestic violence victims at even greater risk is morally bankrupt leadership at its worst?
Photo from martinak15 via flickr.