Senate votes to proceed to work on VAWA bill

“Nationally, 1-in-4 women and 1-in-7 men experience severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said on Monday ahead of the vote. “It is extremely important to pass this legislation because all men and women, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation and disability deserve to be safe and protected from physical violence. … This is not and never should be a partisan issue.”

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Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Johanns (Neb.), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), James Risch (Idaho), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Tim Scott (S.C.) voted against the motion to proceed.

Both the House and Senate passed their own versions during the 112th Congress, but neither chamber took up the other's version. The Senate-version of VAWA extends protections for victims of domestic violence to Native Americans, LGBT victims and immigrants — this time without requiring more revenue and avoiding the "blue slip" problem. 

Democrats, including Obama, said they preferred the Senate bill because it would give tribal authorities jurisdiction over non-Indians in domestic violence cases, but that issue has raised questions about possible Constitutional violations. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said lawmakers would work during the next couple days to resolve the issue. If it's not resolved, Grassley said he would offer a substitute amendment that would remove that provision.

The Senate bill also prohibits discrimination against LGBT victims in grant programs to help victims, and would let illegal immigrants stay in the country to receive help if they are victims of domestic violence or rape.

“And we must guarantee communities have the resources to support victims — regardless of sexual orientation, immigration status or where they live — as they heal. Every victim of domestic violence deserves the same vigorous protections under the law,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the Senate floor Monday ahead of the vote. “I hope the Senate’s bipartisan action this week will send a strong message to House Republican leaders that further partisan delay is unacceptable.”

VAWA provides grants to victims of domestic violence in order to encourage victims to leave their abusive situations. Some feel they can’t get away from their abusers because they might not have another form of family income, so the grants can provide housing assistance and cellphones for victims. Under this reauthorization bill, these programs would continue for another five years.

Reid said the bill has reduced cases of domestic violence by 53 percent since originally being passed two decades ago.

The Senate also added the SAFER Act to S. 47, which helps law enforcement agencies address nearly 300,000 rape kit backlogs waiting to be analyzed across the country.