The U.S. Senate voted 78-22 on Feb. 12, to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, but Missouri senators Claire McCaskill (D) and Roy Blunt (R) remain sharply divided on the issue.
The act was first passed in 1994, and has since been renewed twice — in 2000 and 2005.
The act provides various provisions intended to protect women from the threat of domestic and relationship violence, along with laws further protecting women from rape.
Some of the more prominent effects of the bill have been the creation of a “rape shield law,” which ensures that a victim’s past sexual conduct may not be used against them in trial, according to the White House fact sheet on the bill, and funding for rape crisis centers and other resources for victims.
It also outlines grants for related programs, along with investigation and prosecution of violent offenders.
These grant programs include the Campus Grant Program, which “encourages institutions of higher education to adopt comprehensive, coordinated responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking,” according to the United States Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.
Much of the Republican outcry against the bill has been related to the inclusion of tribal provisions, a concept which allows Native Americans to try non-Native Americans in court for abuse that occurs on Indian reservations.
Republicans against the bill say that this is an unconstitutional measure.
Blunt said this was one of the main reasons for his opposal of the bill in a press release Feb. 12 — the day that the bill was passed by the Senate.
“Unfortunately, the bill the Senate considered today has been politicized and includes elements that are irrelevant to the core purposes of VAWA, including an unconstitutional provision related to tribal courts,” the press release said.
McCaskill, a former prosecutor who established a Domestic Violence Unit in Missouri, called for immediate action on the bill by the House.
“The Violence Against Women Act provides prosecutors and law enforcement the resources they need to protect Missourians from domestic abuse and to assure offenders are held to account. This reauthorization has now passed two times in the Senate — the President is waiting to sign it — we’re all waiting for action in the House. They need to act,” said McCaskill in a press release.
McCaskill has been vocally supportive of the bill, last year joining the female Democrats of the Senate to write a letter to the women of the House, asking them to pass the bill.
House Republicans introduced their own version of the bill Feb. 22, modifying the tribal provisions language to give more rights to the defendant, and also removing explicit language from the Senate bill that ensures equal coverage for LGBT victims.
This change would not specifically prohibit them from benefiting from the provisions outlined in the bill, but it would be easier to deny it to them in the future.
House Democrats rejected the proposed changes, and said they would be harmful to the success that the bill has had in the past.
A vote on the revised bill will likely take place next week, according to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s website.
Congress previously passed a reauthorization of the act in 2000 and in 2005 by a landslide in both houses of Congress.
The 2000 renewal passed the Senate 95-0, and the House voted 371-1. In 2005, the Senate vote was unanimously in favor, and the House passed it 415-4, according to McCaskill’s website.