White House Official Suggests Backers of Domestic Violence Bill Seek New Supporters

Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:23am

A White House official told grassroots supporters of a stalled Senate bill renewing domestic violence programs that widening their coalition to include law enforcement officials and faith-based leaders would help build pressure on House Republicans to advance the measure.

Lynn Rosenthal, the Obama administration’s adviser on violence against women, said resolving a long-running dispute between the House and Senate over a five-year renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (PL 103-322) “is a high priority for the lame-duck session” and that “work has already begun on our end to make this happen.”

Rosenthal suggested that an additional crop of supporters of the Senate-passed version (S 1925) could build more support for the Senate’s version among House Republicans.

The House passed its own renewal (HR 4970) of the 1994 domestic violence law, which funds a range of programs intended to help victims of domestic and sexual abuse and prosecute offenders. The House reauthorization is narrower and does not include provisions in the Senate bill that would expand protections for domestic violence victims who are gay and lesbian, immigrants and American Indians.

Rosenthal said that “putting a human face on this violence” can help advance final legislation to the president’s desk.

“We can’t ask you to lobby, but we can say that if you wanted to make your views known, that doing that with a coalition of law enforcement, faith leaders and others . . . can be a very effective way to get your message across,” Rosenthal said in a conference call organized by the National Coalition to End Domestic Violence, an umbrella organization of advocates who have pushed for the Senate bill.

Up to now, supporters of the Senate bill have consisted primarily of groups that work with survivors of domestic violence or advocate on behalf of women, immigrants, gays and lesbians.

In the conference call, advocates said they would renew efforts in the coming weeks to push the law’s renewal over the finish line during the post-election session to avoid having to begin the process over again in the 113th Congress.

“The stakes are too high for us to start at square one next year,” said Katy Tyndell, a staff attorney with the National Congress of American Indians.

Indeed, reauthorizing the law might prove a harder task next year, despite Democratic gains in both chambers this week. The National Coalition to End Domestic Violence noted in an email to its members that “nearly 30 of our key champions will not be returning to the 113th Congress due to retirement or [electoral] defeat.”

The list includes several moderate House Republicans who crossed the aisle and voted against their conference’s renewal of the domestic violence law in May, including Reps. Robert Dold and Judy Biggert, both of Illinois. They lost their reelection bids Nov. 6.

In the Senate, Republican supporters of the expanded domestic violence law who will not return next year include Scott P. Brown, R-Mass.; Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas; and Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine.

Advocates hope the departures will increase the urgency among those representatives and senators to get the renewal done in the lame-duck session. They hope the same is true for the chief sponsor of the narrower House legislation, Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Fla., who was defeated in a Republican primary in August and also will not return next year.

“It makes sense that she’d want to build a good legacy and be on the right side of history on this,” said Tralonne Shorter, a policy analyst with the anti-domestic violence coalition.

In an interview last month, however, Adams said it was up to the Senate to take action on the law’s renewal, calling her bill “a very good piece of legislation that is victim-centered. The Senate could just pass that piece of legislation.”