The House of Representatives on Monday introduced legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark bill championed by President Joe Biden that expired in 2018.
Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat, introduced the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 along with fellow Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York and Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, the only Republican supporting the bill so far and who also co-sponsored the House-passed bill in 2019. Reauthorizing the legislation Biden cosponsored as a senator in 1994 has stalled in both chambers of Congress, with Republicans and Democrats introducing their own versions of a reauthorization bill. Both sides have accused each other of playing politics with the act and the sensitive issue of domestic abuse.
The new bill builds upon the previous versions of the VAWA by providing grants and support to various groups that work on issues relating to sexual assault, domestic violence and prevention, among other things.
It also aims to improve access to housing for victims and survivors and eliminates impunity for non-Native perpetrators of sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence, stalking, sex trafficking, and assaults on tribal law enforcement officers on tribal land, according to a statement from Nadler’s office.
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“After its initial enactment a quarter-century ago, VAWA – through policy reforms, interstate cooperation and grant allocation – has been pivotal in providing a national response to protecting half of the population. Equally important, it has ushered in a seismic transformation on how society perceives violence against women,” Jackson Lee said in a statement, adding that the law has improved the lives of “girls and women, boys and men.”
Biden, who campaigned on enacting reauthorization of the law as a top priority during the first 100 days of his presidency, applauded reintroduction of the bill in a statement Monday night, urging Congress to “come together in a bipartisan manner to ensure swift passage” of VAWA in both chambers.
“Strengthening and renewing VAWA is long past due. 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,” he said. “This should not be a Democratic or Republican issue – it’s a matter of justice and compassion.”
House Democrats passed a version of VAWA in April 2019 with 33 Republicans, which would have reauthorized the law for five years, but it didn’t go anywhere in the Senate, where senators on both sides of the aisle introduced different bills.
A provision that would close the “boyfriend loophole,” prohibiting dating partners convicted of assault or stalking from purchasing firearms, has been a sticking point between Democrats and Republicans. The new bill would prohibit those convicted of misdemeanor stalking from buying a firearm and makes it illegal for a person to transfer or sell a firearm or ammunition to a person they believe has been convicted of misdemeanor stalking.
Deborah J. Vagins, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said in a statement to CNN Tuesday that the bill moves in the right direction of advancing the safety and justice of all survivors and that the group is proud to support it. Vagins also said that the group will work with Congress “to ensure that the final bill addresses the abuse that immigrant survivors continue to face by allowing them to access VAWA protections and obtain desperately needed U Visas.”