- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Treading on touchy territory, the Senate on Tuesday defeated a plan to push states to test accused rapists for sexually transmitted diseases so their victims would know more quickly what treatments to get.

The vote came as part of the debate on renewing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which did clear the Senate on a bipartisan 78-22 vote, heightening the pressure on House Republicans to come to the table and strike a deal on a final bill that can pass both chambers.

Last year, both the House and Senate passed versions, but couldn’t reach agreement on a compromise, leaving congressional Democrats to accuse the GOP of ignoring domestic violence in the middle of an election campaign.

This year, the GOP has said it wants to get a final deal done.

“I see reason for hope,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chief author of the bill, said Tuesday, pointing to pressure from within House Republicans’ own ranks for action on the legislation.

VAWA was enacted in 1994, with then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden the chief author of the legislation.

It has been regularly renewed with strong bipartisan support, but last year it bogged down in the House over questions of whether American Indian tribal courts should have jurisdiction over non-Indians charged with crimes under the act, and over provisions extending protections to same-sex couples and illegal immigrants.

House Republicans powered through a version that avoided those three issues, but couldn’t get a final agreement with the Senate.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said last week he considered VAWA to be a priority for action this year. He said he has been in contact with Mr. Biden to try to talk through some of the issues.

Senate Republicans made several moves to try to alter the bill this week, including trying to strike the provision on tribal courts, which failed, and Mr. Coburn’s effort to push for STD testing of those accused of rape.

The Oklahoma Republican said passing his plan would “keep women from getting raped twice” — once by their attacker and once by “the system.”

The last time Congress renewed VAWA, it encouraged states and localities to do STD testing, and said if they don’t, they would forfeit 5 percent of certain grant money.

Mr. Coburn said most agencies chose to accept the 5 percent penalty rather than do the testing, so he asked that the level be boosted to 20 percent to force better compliance.

But most Democrats opposed him, with Mr. Leahy saying states don’t want to comply, and that would mean they’d lose federal funding under Mr. Coburn’s plan.

“Instead of helping victims of rape and domestic violence, it will leave thousands without help,” Mr. Leahy said.

Led by Democrats, the Senate defeated Mr. Coburn’s plan on a 57-43 vote. Four Republicans voted with most Democrats, while a couple of Democrats defected to vote with the GOP.

The bill provides grants to states and localities for housing and legal help for domestic-violence victims, and would direct money to try to speed up analysis of DNA samples from rape cases.

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