The Senate is plowing this week toward passage of a bill aimed at domestic abuse for the second time in two years — but with provisions involving gay partners, illegal immigrants and jurisdictional disputes on Indian lands, the legislation faces an uncertain future in the Republican-run House.
A bipartisan 85-8 vote Tuesday in the Senate to begin debating renewal of the Violence Against Women Act signals that the bill faces little resistance in the Democrat-controlled chamber. A final vote could be called as early as Thursday before the bill moves to the House.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said Wednesday that reauthorizing the bill, which passed without much controversy during the Clinton administration in 1994 and has been renewed twice, is a priority.
Republicans said their goal is to focus the legislation on the people it was initially designed to protect: battered women.
"We'll continue to work to find the best way to protect women and prosecute offenders," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
The showdown is repeat of last year, when the Senate voted 68-31 to reauthorize the law but House Republicans balked at provisions to extend protections to same-sex couples and to offer temporary visas to illegal immigrants who were victims of domestic abuse. The House passed its version on a 222-205 vote, but the legislation died after the two chambers weren't able to reconcile their differences.
One big sticking point is a Senate provision to give American Indian authorities more power to prosecute outsiders who attack their Indian partners on tribal lands.
In December, after the legislation was stalled for months, Republican Reps. Darrell E. Issa of California and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who is of Chickasaw tribal heritage, attempted a compromise by offering a stand-alone measure to give tribes criminal jurisdiction over domestic violence. The congressional session ended before a deal could be reached.
Supporters of the Senate bill are hoping that House Republicans — eager to win back female voters they lost in November elections — will feel pressured to accept the measure for fear of being labeled unsympathetic to women.
"Despite strong, bipartisan support in the Senate, Republicans in the House refused to join the effort to renew our national commitment to ending domestic violence," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said on the Senate floor Monday. "Allowing partisan delays to put women's lives at risk is simply shameful."
The Obama administration has urged Congress to pass the Senate version quickly.
In a concession to Republicans, senators removed a provision in last year's bill that would have increased visas for immigrant victims of domestic violence.
While domestic abuse is a state crime everywhere in the U.S., the Violence Against Women Act provides grants to state and local offices for legal assistance, transitional housing, law enforcement training, stalker databases and domestic violence hotlines. It also established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Justice Department.
Although the most recent reauthorization of the law has expired, programs authorized under the act are still in place. But without renewal, they cannot be expanded or improved.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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