House Reauthorizes Violence Against Women Act

March 18, 2021 Updated: March 18, 2021

The House of Representatives on March 17 passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a bill designed to protect women from domestic violence.

The bill passed the chamber by a vote of 244–172, with 29 Republicans joining Democrats.

President Joe Biden had introduced the original VAWA in June 1990 when he was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A subsequent version of VAWA was included in the sweeping crime bill in 1994 signed by then-President Bill Clinton. Congress has reauthorized the act three times since—in 2000, 2005, and 2013.

Biden on March 17 issued a statement in support of the bill’s reauthorization. He urged the Senate to also pass the bill and said the matter shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It’s instead “about standing up against the abuse of power and preventing violence.”

The bill aims to reduce domestic and sexual violence and improve the response to it through a variety of grant programs.

The original act established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice. The office was responsible for implementing the law and, along with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), providing grant programs to state and local governments, nonprofits, and universities.

Such grants helped fund initiatives to address domestic violence and child abuse, including funding the investigation and prosecution of alleged violent crimes against women, shelters, and rape prevention and reeducation programs.

Supporters said the reauthorization would also boost spending for training law enforcement and the courts, according to The Associated Press.

The legislation also would prohibit people who were previously convicted of misdemeanor stalking from possessing firearms. The provision had generated opposition from the NRA, which continues to oppose the bill today.

“The NRA did not score the legislation until last Congress because it never impacted Second Amendment rights,” Jason Ouimet, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement to media outlets.

“However, Speaker Pelosi and anti-gun lawmakers chose to insert gun control provisions into this bill in 2019 to pit pro-gun lawmakers against it so that they can falsely and maliciously claim these lawmakers don’t care about women.

“This is Washington at its filthiest. It’s proof that anti-gun lawmakers care more about smearing opponents than passing meaningful legislation.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (R-Texas) threw support behind the provision on guns.

“[The bill] is based on prevention and intervention and protecting those against the perpetrators with guns who are their intimate partners and the dating violence, it does not have to be intimate. We do everything we can to give security and protection,” she said at a March 17 press conference on VAWA.

The legislation expired at the end of 2018. The House passed the bill to reauthorize VAWA in 2019, with 33 Republicans joining Democrats, but it wasn’t taken up in the majority-Republican Senate due to partisan disputes in Congress over issues related to extra provisions introduced to the bill, including on the gun control matter.

Most Republicans voted against the measure in the last Congress.

Lisa Murkowski
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) questions Rep. Debra Haaland, (D-N.M.), President Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of the interior, during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Feb. 24, 2021. (Leigh Vogel-Pool/Getty Images)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told a reporter on Capitol Hill: “I think it’s fair to say that there is a good strong interest in trying to advance VAWA. I’ve talked to both Republicans and Democrats here in the Senate, about how we’re moving, what we’re all working on VAWA.”

“Last year, things got derailed with VAWA because of gun control. I really hope that the effort will try to find the level of support. I think it’s critically important that we advance VAWA,” she said, adding that she is working on a portion of the bill concerning Native American tribes.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told reporters on Capitol Hill that senators are working on a version of VAWA that’s different from the House bill.

“We have Lisa Murkowski now, who is working on the tribal portion. And so she will be ironing out some of the difficulties we had last year so we’ll get it introduced and we’ll see the House version come over,” Ernst said. “What we’re hoping to show is that we have enough Republican support on our bill and that we’re willing to work with Democrats on this. And hopefully by combining forces we can come up with the 60 votes needed and pass a good, modernized bill that will work for the Senate hopefully [more] than the House bill does.”

She noted of the VAWA bill in the last Congress: “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. So why don’t we just kind of backtrack a little bit and figure out where we can agree?”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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