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Senate talks on crafting bipartisan Violence Against Women Act break down

Iowa's Ernst to push her own bill, calls House version ‘nonstarter’

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said Thursday that talks with Democrats on a bipartisan update to the Violence Against Women Act have dissolved. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said Thursday that talks with Democrats on a bipartisan update to the Violence Against Women Act have dissolved. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Bipartisan Senate talks over a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act fell apart this week, Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst said in a floor speech Thursday.

Ernst said she’ll introduce her own version of the bill that can pass the Republican-controlled Senate and gain the support of President Donald Trump. The House, controlled by Democrats, passed a version of the bill in April.

“Just this week, after months of work and mountains of effort toward a bipartisan bill, it all came to a screeching halt,” Ernst said. “Once again Democrats are putting politics ahead of people.”

A representative for Ernst’s counterpart in the negotiations, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

Ernst said the bill had been swept up in “election year politics” that drove the negotiations off the rails. Earlier this year Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said he would defer to Feinstein and Ernst to negotiate a bill. Unlike nominations, Senate rules effectively require bipartisan support to pass legislation, so majority Republicans would need at least some Democrats to be on board.

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Ernst said a bill that passed the House in April — with 33 Republicans joining nearly all the Democrats, despite some complaining it included “poison pill” provisions — was a “nonstarter” in the Senate. She said that during negotiations, however, that was the measure Senate Democrats  wanted brought up.

Gun rights at issue

The most contentious provision in the House-passed bill would lower the criminal threshold to bar someone from buying a gun to include misdemeanor convictions of stalking and a broader swath of domestic abuse crimes. The law currently applies to felony convictions.

The authorization for the law ran out last year, although appropriations bills passed since then have continued funding for the programs.

The Violence Against Women Act has been a hot-button political issue for years, and the negotiations’ failure does not bode well for its future this Congress. Originally passed in 1994 to address the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence, the law has been reauthorized several times. It created programs to enhance investigation and prosecution of violent crime against women and authorized grants to state and local law enforcement.

Congress only passed the 2013 law after a several-year struggle over reauthorization, as changes like expanding Native American jurisdiction over nontribal defendants slowed passage.

A quarter of women experience severe intimate-partner physical violence, and 1 in 7 have been stalked by an intimate partner to the point where she felt very fearful, or believed that she or someone close to her would be harmed or killed, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

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