In a welcome display of bipartisanship, the Senate voted, 78-22, last week to renew the Violence Against Women Act, the two-decade-old law that has shielded millions of women from abuse and helped reduce national rates of domestic violence.
Now, it’s the House’s turn. Last year, House Republicans blocked renewal of the law because they objected to extending the law’s protections to Native American women, lesbians and illegal immigrants. Those women, including thousands here in Western New York, also deserve to be protected against domestic violence.
While this country has come far in accepting some things that were once unthinkable – gay marriage in many states, a black president – it remains clear that there is much work to be done.
Of course, things have changed since the last election, in which Republicans bungled many issues important to women. Suddenly, there seemed to be a renewed interest in issues involving both women and illegal immigrants.
Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, said that the act “just naturally moved up the priority list for a lot of members.” And he’s right that this is the sort of issue where politics has to be set aside.
This year, opposition in the House is centered on the proposal to allow tribal courts to render justice on white men who abuse their partners on Indian land.
Support for the bill should have been a no-brainer, given that the Violence Against Women Act has enjoyed bipartisan support since its original passage in 1994.
The legislation funds social service agencies that provide housing and counseling to victims of domestic violence, along with money to train police departments. This critical support cannot be lost.
And although the bill’s $650 million in funding for programs to combat domestic violence is down by 17 percent from the previous level, that’s still much better than nothing. And if the impact of a 50 percent reduction in domestic violence nationwide in the last decade is any indication, it’s money well spent.
There’s already been some compromise on the legislation, with the elimination of a controversial piece of last year’s bill that would have granted more visas to abused immigrants. However, this deference should not be allowed to weaken the provision for white abusers of Native American women on Indian land. While the idea of tribal court jurisdiction over non-Indians is unthinkable to some Republicans, a worse outcome is allowing those abusers to slip through the system entirely.
Seventeen House Republicans wrote to party leaders last week urging them to back the legislation.
We hope the efforts by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R.-Va., to come to an agreement with Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and one of three Native Americans in the House, will lead to an acceptable solution.
Further delay on legislation to reduce domestic violence is not acceptable. The law has to be swiftly reauthorized.