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 NadlerMcGahn to sit for closed-door interview with House Democrats House to consider anti-Asian hate crimes bill, protections for pregnant workers this month A historic moment to truly honor mothers 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 CollinsPoll shows tight GOP primary for Georgia governor The Hill's Morning Report - Census winners and losers; House GOP huddles Former Rep. Doug Collins won't enter Georgia Senate race 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 RatcliffeTrump alumni launch America First Policy Institute Sunday shows preview: Democrats eye two-part infrastructure push; Michigan coronavirus cases surge Former Trump officials eye bids for political office 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 LeeLawmakers roll out legislation to defend pipelines against cyber threats Victims' relatives hold Capitol Hill meetings to push police reform Democrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote MORE (D-Texas) and David CicillineDavid CicillineRomney: Capitol riot was 'an insurrection against the Constitution' Democrat moves to censure three Republicans for downplaying Jan. 6 Democrats reintroduce legislation to ban 'ghost guns' 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.