The U.S. House on Thursday passed the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) re-authorization bill, leaving intact provisions that protect LBT women and women of Native American descent.
The House voted 286 to 138 to back the bill, with 199 Democrats joining 87 Republicans to pass the reauthorization of this landmark 1994 law.
The vote ends a year-long standoff on a bill that is seen as vital to protect women from domestic violence. The House infamously failed to reauthorize the bill during the previous congress and looked set to stall on the Senate version of the bill that passed in a 78-22 vote earlier this month.
However, the House on Thursday rejected its own less encompassing version of VAWA by a vote of 166-257. The watered down bill lacked enumerated classes and would have failed to explicitly cover LBT women as well as failing to cater to Native American women on reservations.
House lawmakers had argued that even without this explicit coverage, “all women” were covered, but drew sharp criticism from Democrats and women’s rights groups at large.
The Violence Against Women Act originally authorized a National Domestic Violence Hotline and federal funding to assist women’s shelters.
Almost two decades on, the version passed on Thursday goes further to authorize funding for victim assistance programs. It will also aid in the prosecution of people accused of domestic violence and sexual assault. The legislation also, for the first time, has provisions to deal with stalking, including the use of spyware and video surveillance equipment.
President Obama has welcomed the bill arriving on his desk, saying, “Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse. Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear [...] .”
Similarly, LGBT rights groups have praised Congress for having finally passed the bill.
Said Rea Carey, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: ”This is a huge victory for the millions of people across the country affected by domestic and sexual violence, including LGBT people. To be the target of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking — whether perpetrated by a stranger or an intimate partner — is terrifying and traumatic. [...] We thank Congress and look forward to President Obama’s signature on this critically important bill. This law will literally help save lives.”
This victory for women’s rights could mean a headache for the House leadership, however. As The New York Times notes, the measure passed with only 87 House Republicans voting in favor, making this the third time in two months that Speaker John Boehner has brought a bill to the floor without having the support of a majority of his own party.
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