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Congress renews law to protect women from violence

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House Republicans leaders bowed to pressure Thursday and passed a new, Senate-written Violence Against Women Act, which adds protections to gay partners, illegal immigrants and victims on American Indian lands.

The 286-138 vote came after the House rejected a more limited Republican version. GOP leaders had opposed the expanded version on the grounds the provisions were either unnecessary or unconstitutional.

Eighty-seven Republicans joined 199 Democrats in supporting the measure, while no Democrat opposed it.

"The Violence Against Women Act has long ensured that no woman would ever be forced to suffer in silence in the face of domestic violence and abuse," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. "Democrats were committed to keeping that promise — that's why we led the charge to enact the strong, bipartisan Senate bill."

The expanded reauthorization of the 1994 act now goes to President Obama for his signature. It's the third time this year House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, reluctantly allowed a bill to pass without the support of a majority of his party.

Two Democrats — Reps. Daniel Lipinski of Illinois and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina — supported the GOP bill.

"While I am disappointed a stronger version of the Violence Against Women Act did not pass, I am proud that such important legislation was reauthorized today with bipartisan support," said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the lead sponsor of the Republican version.

Measures to avert the "fiscal cliff" and provide funding for Superstorm Sandy victims also passed the GOP-run House this calendar year with a majority of Democratic votes.

Thursday's action ends a dispute between the chambers that had simmered since last year, when the Senate and House passed bills to renew the law similar to their 2013 versions. That effort died after the two chambers were unable to reconcile differences.

The House action is a victory for President Obama, who has pushed for the Senate version.

"Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk," the president said.

A big sticking point had been a Senate provision to give American Indian authorities more power to prosecute outsiders who attack their Indian partners on tribal lands. But several House Republicans were unwilling to support a bill without the provision or a compromise.

The Violence Against Women Act provide grants to states and localities for housing and legal help for domestic-violence victims. Although the most recent authorization of the law has expired, programs covered under the act are still in place. But without renewal, they cannot be expanded or improved.

Advocacy groups for women, gays and American Indians applauded the House action, with the National Congress of American Indians calling it "historic."

"With this authority comes a serious responsibility and tribal courts will administer justice with the same level of impartiality that any defendant is afforded in state and federal courts," said National Congress of American Indians Jefferson Keel. "We have strong tribal courts systems that protect public safety."

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