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House passes bill to renew Violence Against Women Act

House passes bill to renew Violence Against Women Act
© Greg Nash

The House passed legislation on Wednesday to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a law originally authored by President BidenJoe BidenFour members of Sikh community among victims in Indianapolis shooting Overnight Health: NIH reverses Trump's ban on fetal tissue research | Biden investing .7B to fight virus variants | CDC panel to meet again Friday on J&J On The Money: Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats | Justice Dept. sues Trump ally Roger Stone for unpaid taxes MORE that lapsed in 2019.

Lawmakers voted largely along party lines 244-172 to approve the measure, with only 29 Republicans joining all Democrats in support.

The legislation, which was reintroduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeHouse panel approves bill to set up commission on reparations Race debate grips Congress Congressional Black Caucus members post selfie celebrating first WH visit in four years MORE (D-Texas), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDemocratic Rep. Mondaire Jones calls on Breyer to retire The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Biden to Putin: Tough sanctions, straight talk House Republican proposes constitutional amendment to prevent Supreme Court expansion MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickHouse passes bill to prevent violence in health care workplaces House panel opens probe into Tom Reed over sexual misconduct allegations Fitzpatrick replaces Tom Reed as House Problem Solvers co-chair MORE (R-Pa.), would provide grants to state and local governments for programs addressing domestic abuse, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.

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It would further close the so-called boyfriend loophole to prevent dating partners convicted of domestic violence or abuse from buying or owning guns. Current law only applies the gun purchase restriction to spouses or formerly married partners convicted of abuse or under a restraining order. 

“Women cannot go back. Women cannot continue in an intimidated fashion to tragically be subject to men who violently attack them,” Jackson Lee said during House floor debate. “That is what this legislation is about.” 

While the House passed reauthorization legislation in 2019 with the support of a handful of GOP lawmakers, it didn’t get action in the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans at the time who objected to the gun control provision.

The law was originally enacted in 1994 and has been reauthorized repeatedly in the decades since. But it has not been renewed since its latest expiration in February 2019. 

Biden urged Congress to “come together in a bipartisan manner” to move the legislation quickly, particularly given what he called “a pandemic within the COVID-19 pandemic” of a spike in domestic abuse as stay-at-home orders and other restrictions have led to people effectively becoming confined with their abusers.

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“Delay is not an option, especially when the pandemic and economic crisis have only further increased the risks of abuse and the barriers to safety for women in the United States,” Biden said in a statement. 

It's estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that about 44 percent of women in the U.S. have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetimes, along with about 25 percent of men.

And since the pandemic-induced shutdowns began in the U.S., local police departments have been reporting increases in arrests related to domestic violence, according to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

GOP critics of the measure argue that the bill restricts gun rights by preventing people convicted of stalking or abusing dating partners from buying a gun. They also object to language that provides additional protections for transgender individuals.

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said that she has been a victim of domestic abuse but does not feel the bill adequately addresses the problem. 

“I am intimately familiar with the desperate situations many women who are victims of domestic abuse face. As a domestic violence survivor, I know just how important services and protections are to women across our nation. Previous reauthorizations of the Violence Against Women Act have been bipartisan, but not this one,” Lesko said on the floor.  

“This version is filled with partisan priorities that force women's domestic violence shelters to take in men who identify as women, strip away protections for religious organizations and eliminate Second Amendment rights without due process. The most egregious provisions of this bill push leftist gender ideology at the expense of important protections for women's privacy and safety,” she added.

The VAWA renewal is among several bills that House Democrats have been resending to the Senate in recent weeks now that they control both chambers of Congress.

Earlier Wednesday, the House passed a resolution to eliminate the deadline for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. Three-fourths of states have voted in favor of the proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, but not all of them did so before the original 1979 deadline.

But while Democrats now control the Senate, the VAWA renewal currently appears to lack the necessary 60 votes to overcome a GOP filibuster.

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGOP senator: Raising corporate taxes is a 'non-starter' Tim Scott to participate in GOP event in Iowa Exclusive: GOP senators seek FBI investigation into Biden Pentagon nominee MORE (R-Iowa) said that GOP senators are working on their own proposal to renew VAWA that she hopes can be reconciled with the House bill.

"What we’re hoping to show is that we have enough Republican support on our bill and that we’re willing to work with Democrats on this. And hopefully by combining forces we can come up with the 60 votes needed and pass a good, modernized bill that will work for the Senate," Ernst told reporters.