- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2012

House Republicans said Wednesday that they intend to swiftly pass a domestic-violence law and remove the issue from election-year politicizing, though the Democrat-led Senate is prepared to vote on a different bill on the issue Thursday.

It’s not clear yet how the two bills - the Senate version contains provisions related to homosexuality, American Indians and immigrants that the House bill doesn’t - will be reconciled, though each party said the issue should not become a political football and accused the other of trying to do just that.

“Violence knows no bounds,” and the nation has a “moral responsibility” to come together to protect its people from violence and bring assailants to justice, Rep. Kristi L. Noem, South Dakota Republican, said at a news briefing with 11 other female Republican lawmakers Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, in Congress, some would like to make this a political play. They’d like to make a cheap shot and try to politicize it in an election year,” Mrs. Noem said.

The 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) will lapse soon, and a bill now being drafted by House Republicans will renew and streamline it, require new oversight, and ensure that funds go to victims, not bureaucrats, said Rep. Sandy Adams, Florida Republican and lead sponsor of the bill.

However, the House Republican VAWA bill will not include “controversial issues that would actually detract” from the original law, Mrs. Adams. “We need to make sure that we don’t allow this bill to become a political issue.”

The Senate will consider Thursday a bill introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and Sen. Mike Crapo, Idaho Republican.

Their bill has attracted only eight Republican co-sponsors, far from the law’s usual broad bipartisan support. At issue are new provisions affecting tribal councils’ authority over non-Indians, and treatment of illegal immigrants who are victims of domestic violence. The Leahy-Crapo bill also specifies that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people must have access to victim services.

These new provisions are needed because special populations face obstacles to get services and justice in domestic-violence cases, Mr. Leahy said.

“A victim is a victim is a victim. They all deserve our attention and the protection and access to services our bill provides,” he said.

Reauthorization of VAWA “will ensure the police have tools to more effectively stop this [violence] and prosecute these people who are the abusers,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Senate Republicans, however, have balked at provisions that seem to establish unprecedented changes in tribal law and visa rules, while ignoring major problems with fraud and waste in VAWA funding.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, are bringing up an alternative bill in Thursday’s session. One difference is that “our bill covers men,” she said, as it is now known that “men suffer victimization, too.”

If the Leahy-Crapo bill passes Thursday, it will find a similar bill waiting from House Democrats.

However, the House Republican VAWA bill should be finished by next week and be ready for a vote by mid-May, Republican lawmakers said Wednesday.

When pressed about Senate protections for American Indians, Mrs. Noem said the House Republican bill will “stay consistent with criminal law.” Mrs. Adams said protections for nonheterosexuals already are contained in VAWA. “Victim services are for everyone,” she said.

At an earlier news conference with an American Indian woman who spoke of her experience with sexual abuse, Senate Democratic women also warned of the bill becoming a political football.

“These women don’t deserve political theater,” said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat. Hopefully, the House will act in a bipartisan way, she said, adding, “We want to make sure they don’t move us backwards.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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