House panel approves controversial changes to Violence Against Women Act
© Greg Nash

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted to approve a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in a party-line 22-11 vote, sending it to the full chamber.

The law, which includes programs and measures to protect women from domestic abuse, lapsed on Feb. 15 after lawmakers failed to include an extension in a broader spending bill.

The act was first passed in 1994 and has been reauthorized three times. But the current bill offers expanded protections for transgender persons, including access to shelters, and measures that could make it harder for convicted abusers to purchase firearms, sparking controversy.

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“VAWA, which is not gender-exclusive, addresses the needs of men and women, children, persons with disabilities, homeless persons and LGBTQ people among others,” Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerWords matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Nadler: Impeachment inquiry a 'made-up term' but it's essentially 'what we are doing' DOJ files brief arguing against House impeachment probe MORE (D-N.Y.) said during the committee markup.

He said the expanded bill before the committee included "new protections for transgender individuals by making them newly eligible for certain DOJ grants and by ensuring that their gender identity is properly recognized by the Bureau of Prisons.”

But Republicans on the committee questioned many of the changes, highlighting concerns over transgender protections, access to abortions and how the bill treats faith-based groups.

Ranking member Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsJustice OIG completes probe on FBI surveillance of ex-Trump campaign aide Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers ramp up Silicon Valley antitrust probe | Treasury sanctions North Korean cyber groups | Thiel to host Kobach fundraiser House antitrust panel seeks internal records from Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook MORE (R-Ga.) worried that by rushing the bill Democrats were endangering the women it aimed to protect.

“It is my sincere hope that we can ultimately work together to authorize VAWA in a thoughtful and meaningful way that preserves the intent of the law," Collins said. "I cannot, however, support the legislation my colleagues have put forward as it politicizes and weaponizes a program and a law that for years was non-controversial and bipartisan.”

“This bill is a Democratic wish list of campaign promises,” said Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeUS attorney recommends moving forward with charges against McCabe after DOJ rejects his appeal Hillicon Valley: Google to pay 0M to settle child privacy charges against YouTube | Tech giants huddle with intel officials on election security | Top IT official names China main cyber threat Lawmakers offer bill to shore up federal cybersecurity MORE (R-Texas). “It is not a good faith effort to pass a bipartisan and noncontroversial reauthorization.”

Democrats blocked proposed amendments that would have limited access for transgender individuals at shelters.

Reps. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeJackson Lee: 'Racism is a national security threat' Most oppose cash reparations for slavery: poll Poll: Most Americans oppose reparations MORE (D-Texas) and David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineO'Rourke's debate moment reignites gun debate on Sunday shows Sunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate Cicilline: O'Rourke's AR-15 comment 'doesn't help' MORE (D-R.I.) cited higher rates of domestic and sexual violence against the LGBTQ community to defend the bill's broader protections.

“It is not a violation of privacy simply to have to share a space with a transgender person,” Lee said. “We do not want to exclude anyone that has suffered abuse.”

While the act has lapsed, many programs for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence are still being funded through the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Updated at 6:17 p.m.