- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2012

RICHMOND Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II was one of just three state attorneys general who did not sign onto a letter urging Congress to reauthorize the federal Violence Against Women Act - a decision that is now placing Virginia’s top prosecutor squarely in the middle of another politically charged debate.

The letter drew widespread bipartisan support from members of the National Association of Attorneys General when it was issued in January, and with debate over the act heating up in Congress, Mr. Cuccinelli has been urged to reconsider withholding his support.

The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance penned a letter to Mr. Cuccinelli earlier this month saying it was “deeply disappointed” and urged him to support the law, through which Virginia has received more than $4.7 million in grants since 2010.

The act “supports life-saving services for women, children and men in nearly every locality in Virginia, including crisis intervention, shelter, specialized law-enforcement officers, additional prosecutors, and offender-treatment programs,” wrote co-directors Kristi VanAudenhove and Alba Jaramillo.

Gena Boyle, domestic-violence advocacy coordinator for the alliance, said that the group has not received a direct response to its letter but that members continue to follow up with Mr. Cuccinelli’s office and are preparing to travel to the District to meet with Virginia’s congressional delegation on the issue.

The Violence Against Women Act, which increases penalties for domestic violence and provides resources to women who are victims of crime, has been reauthorized twice without fanfare since it first passed in 1994. But it expired on Sept. 30 and its reauthorization has devolved into a pitched partisan battle on Capitol Hill.

Republicans - even some who supported the act in the past - are skittish about new provisions that would make federal grants contingent on nondiscrimination policies at domestic-violence centers, extend the authority of Native American tribal courts in domestic-violence cases and potentially allow more female illegal immigrants to receive visas if they cooperate with law-enforcement officials. They have suggested that Democrats are trying to force the issue in an effort to portray Republicans as insensitive to women ahead of fall elections.

The act has some GOP support in the Senate and a filibuster-proof 60 co-sponsors that include Virginia Sens. Mark R. Warner and Jim Webb, both Democrats. It received additional attention last week when Rep. Gwen Moore, Wisconsin Democrat, took to the House floor in support and shared her own personal story of having been sexually assaulted.

“Domestic violence has been a thread throughout my own personal life, up to and including being a child sexually assaulted, up to and including being an adult who’s been raped,” she said.

Along with Mr. Cuccinelli, Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, both Republicans, declined to sign the National Association of Attorneys General letter supporting the act.

Cuccinelli spokeswoman Caroline Gibson said the attorney general’s office often receives requests from the association to sign on to support letters for federal legislation. But she said bills have often been amended after the initial support, sometimes to the point where the attorney general no longer backed them, so Mr. Cuccinelli’s office has adopted a policy of rarely signing onto such letters.

Mr. Cuccinelli was not among the 45 state and territorial attorneys general to push Congress for continued funding of the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, which provides federal grants for the criminal justice system. Virginia received $4.8 million in grant funds for federal fiscal year 2011.

He was pilloried by some for declining to sign onto an amicus brief in 2010 to support the family of Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq and was a target of protests from the Westboro Baptist Church, a Topeka, Kan.-based group that routinely pickets military funerals and calls war “God’s punishment” for homosexuals. Virginia and Maine were the only two states in which the attorney general did not to sign onto the brief. Last year, Mr. Cuccinelli said an 8-1 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming the group’s free-speech rights “vindicated” his decision.

Ms. Gibson pointed out that, despite the office’s policy, Mr. Cuccinelli is committed to helping fight domestic violence, implementing grant programs and other initiatives such as Verizon Wireless’ HopeLine Program, which donates cellphones to local shelters for victims.

Additionally, the office administers the Address Confidentiality Program, a confidential mail-forwarding service for crime victims. The program allows participants, usually victims of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking, to use a substitute mailing address in lieu of their home address in an effort to keep their physical location confidential. The program became available to crime victims across the state in July.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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