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Lawmakers rolling out Violence Against Women Act without ‘controversial’ provision

Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced on Wednesday that it had reached an agreement on legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that forgoes a key provision that drew opposition from gun rights advocates.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.) was joined by co-authors Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in announcing the legislation at a press conference on Wednesday.

Actress Angelina Jolie, who has been working with lawmakers to promote the legislative effort, was also in attendance with other advocates, along with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who have also been involved in the push.

Lawmakers say the legislation is aimed at strengthening and modernizing VAWA, a landmark measure championed by then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) that was made law in 1994. 

If passed, it would mark the first time in nearly a decade that the bill has been reauthorized — a move advocates have said is necessary to update the legislation to adequately meet the needs of those it is designed to protect.

“Together, we drafted a bill that preserves the good work of the last reauthorization bill in 2013,” Feinstein said, adding the bill will strengthen “existing programs to support survivors and to prevent and to respond to domestic violence, and that’s dating violence and sexual assault and stalking.”

Feinstein said the legislation will seek to enhance and expand services “for survivors of domestic violence, including survivors in rural communities, LGBT survivors,” as well as survivors with disabilities, and strengthen the criminal justice response to domestic violence.

However, Feinstein added that the bill “is not perfect” and will not address the so-called boyfriend loophole, despite recent efforts by the lawmakers to have it included in the legislation. 

In late December, lawmakers unveiled a framework for their reauthorization proposal that outlined a provision advocates said would partially close the loophole by prohibiting individuals convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence against a dating partner from possessing or purchasing firearms or ammunition. Similar restrictions apply to spouses or formerly married partners under current law.

The move marked the latest attempt by lawmakers to go after the loophole in recent years, after previous efforts were attacked by gun rights groups and Republicans as unnecessary “gun control,” though proponents have said it would save lives.

“The boyfriend loophole is a play straight from the Biden gun control agenda. It’s just gun control,” Aidan Johnson, director of federal affairs at Gun Owners of America, said in an interview last month opposing the provision.

At the time, Johnson also said the group and some of its members had been in contact with lawmakers about the proposed expansion.

Pressed by reporters about why lawmakers are forgoing the provision, which enjoys overwhelming support from Democrats, Durbin noted the constraints of the 50-50 split Senate. 

“Well, you need 60 votes, and in order to get anywhere near 60 votes, that provision became controversial,” Durbin said, adding lawmakers had “to measure the remainder of the bill against that provision.” 

“It’s a tough choice. The choice we felt was right,” he said, adding that he’d also like “to see a separate opportunity to vote on that later on the floor.”

It’s unclear when lawmakers plan to bring the reauthorization bill to the floor, though Durbin told reporters that those behind the push are “perilously close” to garnering the necessary support for its passage.

VAWA’s last authorization lapsed five years later after lawmakers failed to renew it. But funding for its programs has continued to be approved in the annual spending legislation.

Murkowski told The Hill on Wednesday that legislation, if signed into law, will likely not impact spending levels in the yearly appropriations legislation for fiscal 2022, which is currently being crafted by congressional negotiators. 

The new rollout comes as Congress is struggling to wrap up negotiations on appropriations legislation. Congress has until Feb. 18 to pass spending legislation to avert a shutdown, though lawmakers are eyeing punting the deadline again to March 11.

“And the way things are going around here, I’m not banking on which goes first,” Murkowski said.

Tags Dianne Feinstein Dick Durbin Joe Biden Joni Ernst Lisa Murkowski Shelley Moore Capito Susan Collins

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