February 28 2013
The U.S. House of Representatives has just passed in the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act instead of a slightly improved House plan. The New York Times reports:
The legislation passed on a vote of 286 to 138, with 199 Democrats joining 87 Republicans to push the reauthorization of the landmark 1994 law, which?assists victims of domestic and sexual violence, across the finish line.
If this were the best way to protect women and if provisions in the bill didn’t deprive some accused parties of their constitutional protections, this would not be such disheartening news.
But the bill was destined to pass—it has a name that is propagandistic and highly effective.
Democrats united against a version of the bill proposed by the House Republicans, which did remove some of the worst abuses. It provided for somewhat more financial oversight and sought to make the training programs more fact-based than ideology based.
In my book the most alarming aspect of VAWA, as passed today, concerns non-Native Americans who are accused on tribal lands. In the past, such people would have come under the jurisdiction of normal courts; the new VAWA stipulates that they must be tried in tribal courts, which are not bound by the Bill of Rights and may be biased against outsiders.
The GOP bill would have corrected this by giving the accused the right to opt out and be tried in a court that is part of the regular judicial system.
It is the rare legislator who has the courage to speak out about the Violence Against Women Act.
One of the rare legislators willing to come out strongly against VAWA was Senator Ron Johnson. It is interesting that the best summary of what is wrong with VAWA comes not from a journalist but from a citizen writing a letter-to-the-editor in praise of Senator Johnson:
Hoorah for Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in seeing through the rants of his critics who are trying to label him as anti-woman and pro-domestic violence because of his objection to support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Everyone is against domestic violence. Since when has fighting domestic violence become a partisan issue? Republicans voted against this flawed bill not because "they hate women" but because they are concerned about the costs of the bill, which will add several billion dollars to the deficit.
This bill duplicates grant programs that are already in the original Violence Against Women Act. The bill will not provide better protection for women who are victims of violence. It will only increase costs by duplicating other health and human services programs.
The new bill reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act also includes an unconstitutional expansion of tribal authority by allowing tribal courts to prosecute men who are not Native Americans if they are accused of abusing a Native American woman on a reservation.
Johnson correctly and courageously criticized the overspending and program duplications by the Justice Department with this poorly devised legislation.
It would be more aptly named the Violence against the Taxpayer Act.
The reauthorization of VAWA is disappointing but entirely unsurprising.