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Violence Against Women Act set for renewal in spending package

Passage would mark first reauthorization since 2013

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the updated VAWA provisions were a priority for her, given the 'crisis' of abuse among tribes in her state.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the updated VAWA provisions were a priority for her, given the 'crisis' of abuse among tribes in her state. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congressional negotiators are poised to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act in the fiscal 2022 spending package unveiled early Wednesday, setting the measure on a fast track for passage.

The new authorization would provide more than $500 million in grants to law enforcement, housing authorities and others to address domestic and sexual violence, according to the draft bill. By adding the language to the omnibus spending package, it could pass both chambers and be signed into law by President Joe Biden in the next few days.

“Including the long overdue reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in the Omnibus assures that it will be enacted once again, helping to protect survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement Wednesday.

Passage would mean the first reauthorization of VAWA, which lapsed in 2019, in nearly a decade.

Last month, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled details of a new authorization bill, which removed a key firearms provision that had held up talks for months. The final measure no longer closes the “boyfriend loophole” that would have prohibited dating partners, in addition to spouses, from owning a gun if convicted of domestic violence.

However, it does have other firearm provisions, such as requiring the FBI to notify local law enforcement in case of a failed background check for a gun purchase. That’s drawn opposition from groups like the American Firearms Association, which claimed it could subject law-abiding gun purchasers to law enforcement proceedings.

Biden has championed the measure, which he praised earlier this year after its introduction, saying he would sign it if passed by Congress.

“It will strengthen rape prevention and education efforts, support rape crisis centers, improve the training of sexual assault forensic examiners, and broaden access to legal services for all survivors, among other things,” he said in a statement.

First passed in 1994, VAWA enshrines legal protections for victims of domestic and sexual violence. The original bill was championed by then-Sen. Biden and was reauthorized and updated in 2000, 2005 and 2013.

The House passed a bill last year to renew the law in a 244-172 vote that netted the support of 29 Republicans. But the National Rifle Association opposed the measure because of the expanded firearm ban. The group said the law should not expand current limited exemptions that take gun rights from people convicted of misdemeanors rather than felonies.

The current measure includes an expansion of Native American tribes’ jurisdiction to include crimes committed by nontribal members, expanding the list of those who can be prosecuted for domestic assault and including assault on law enforcement officials.

The 2013 reauthorization allowed tribes to prosecute nontribal members for domestic violence, but not crimes such as assaults on children or on law enforcement officers.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the updated provisions were a major priority for her, given the “crisis” of abuse among tribes in her state. The bill includes provisions to expand access for Alaskan native tribes to federal criminal justice resources, she said.

It also includes national versions of proposals passed in some states like “Kayden’s Law,” a Pennsylvania measure that expands restrictions on child visitation in custody proceedings for a parent with a history of abuse.

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