Violence Against Women Act renewed despite some Republican opposition
The Democrat-led House pushed a bipartisan vote last week to renew the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a law that also protects members of the LGBTQ community.
While the measure was passed on a vote of 263-158, some Republican representatives sought to oppose it over provisions on restricting gun rights and expanding rights for transgender individuals in detentions and shelters.
Among the Republicans, 33 voted for the measure with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA) as the Republican co-sponsor of the bill. Democrat Rep. Karen Bass (CA) was the bill’s primary sponsor.
Violence Against Women Act: What went before
The law had lapsed during the partial government shutdown that happened in December 2018. However, it was reinstated last January thanks to the short-term fiscal 2019 spending deal before expiring again last February.
The federal law was originally signed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1994, giving US$1 billion in funds to the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women.
It also established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice.
In 2012, the Act’s renewal was opposed by conservative Republicans as the law was extended to protect lesbian, gay, and transgender individuals, undocumented immigrants, and Native Americans.
The expanded bill was passed in 2013.
Violence Against Women Act and gun rights
The House reauthorized the bill again this year but this time, one of the new issues was on lowering the criminal threshold barring someone to buy a gun to misdemeanor convictions (like domestic abuse) from felony convictions.
It also closed the “boyfriend loophole” that expanded gun prohibition to dating partners convicted of abuse or stalking charges.
Republican Rep. Carol Miller (WV) argued that, “It is not the time to hold the safety of women as a bargaining chip against infringements on religious liberty or weakening of the Second Amendment.”
However, Democrat Rep. Debbie Dingell (MI) argued back: “Why would you not close a simple loophole that says if someone has been convicted– convicted, not accused!– convicted of domestic violence, that they not have access to a gun.”
Because of this provision, the National Rifle Association (NRA) “scored” lawmakers on how they voted for the bill.
Violence Against Women Act and transgender rights
Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko (AZ) wanted to remove provisions that would allow transgender women to serve in prisons that align with their gender identity as well as give them access to women’s shelters.
Other Republican representatives repeatedly cited a case in California where a transgender resident sexually harassed women at a women’s shelter.
However, Republican Rep. Tom Reed (NY)– who opposed the gun provisions– favored the transgender provisions: “Discrimination is discrimination. So I’m not concerned about it. I know other members are.”
Before the measure was passed, Republicans tried to pass a last-minute motion for a clean extension of the VAWA.
Presently, the Senate is taking up their own version of the VAWA proposal with Republican Sen. Joni Ernst (IA) and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA) as sponsors.