House Passes Its Version Of Domestic Violence Act

The House Wednesday passed a Republican version of a bill to renew the Violence Against Women Act. This is expected to set up a battle with the Democratic-controlled Senate, which has already passed a broader measure that's supported by the White House.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. On Capitol Hill today, another sign of the season, at least the political season. Members of the House battled over domestic violence a law that for two decades has enjoyed broad support from both sides of the aisle.

Today, the House passed a bill that would renew that law. It came from the Republican side of the aisle. NPR's Andrea Seabrook has more.

ANDREA SEABROOK, BYLINE: For the last 20 years, the Violence Against Women Act has given law enforcement special powers to protect women from domestic violence, stalking and other crimes. It sends federal money to programs that shelter women and girls, collect forensic evidence of rape and help victims take aggressors to court. It's a program that's had consistent bipartisan support until now.

REPRESENTATIVE CAROLYN MALONEY: This bill is but one more assault on what has become sadly but surely known as the war against women.

SEABROOK: New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney decried the particular version of the bill that House Republicans brought to the floor today. Maloney said she has always supported the Violence Against Women Act and wishes she could now.

MALONEY: But, in its current form, this bill says there are some we will not help, we will not protect. These Native Americans, these LGBT people, these immigrant people.

SEABROOK: In this reauthorization of the program, House Republicans removed specific language protecting women on Native American land, lesbian and gay victims and a program shielding illegal immigrants who report violent crimes from being deported.

New York Republican Ann Marie Buerkle said the reason her party removed those provisions is to make the law more fair.

REPRESENTATIVE ANN MARIE BUERKLE: We are not going to single out. We are not going to distinguish one victim from another. Any woman - any person, I should say - who is a victim of domestic violence is a victim of domestic violence and, beyond that, it should be of no concern.

SEABROOK: All Americans deserve equal protection under the law, said Congresswoman Buerkle.

BUERKLE: I just become so distressed when I hear the allegations that there is a war on women.

SEABROOK: Missouri Republican Vicky Hartzler said another reason for the changes is to make sure scarce government funds are being used wisely.

REPRESENTATIVE VICKY HARTZLER: When Congress reauthorizes any bill, we must make sure that the bill directs resources towards those it is intended to help and makes the best possible use of taxpayer money.

SEABROOK: But not all Republicans support their party's bill.

REPRESENTATIVE JUDY BIGGERT: I am concerned that the bill doesn't reflect everything that we've learned over the past five years in terms of what works best for victims or prosecutors.

SEABROOK: Republican Judy Biggert of Illinois said the Violence Against Women Act has never been a partisan issue and it shouldn't be now. In fact, it wasn't over in the U.S. Senate. Republicans and Democrats worked together in committee to come up with a broad reauthorization of the bill. It's supported by law enforcement associations, states' attorneys general and hundreds of victim support organizations.

On the Senate floor, it won a handy bipartisan victory, but when it came to the Republican-controlled House, said Rosa DeLauro...

SENATOR ROSA DELAURO: Instead of moving that bipartisan bill forward, the majority has put forward an alternative bill that, in fact, risks the lives and the health of women.

SEABROOK: DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, said she and her colleagues are disappointed.

DELAURO: We are talking about women's lives. This is no place for partisan games.

SEABROOK: A group of senators, including one Republican, circulated a letter today asking House leaders to take up the bipartisan version of the bill and the Obama administration threatened to veto if the House bill were ever to come to the president's desk, but that seems unlikely.

Several Republicans told NPR their leadership is working behind the scenes to come up with a new version more palatable to victims' groups, one that doesn't risk hardening the image that the Republican Party is not concerned with the problems of women.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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