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Congress Lets Landmark Violence Against Women Law Lapse During Budget Extension

December 4, 2018, 12:08 AM UTC
Congress Gridlocked Over Continuing Resolution Legislation
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 29: The United States Capitol building is seen as Congress remains gridlocked over legislation to continue funding the federal government September 29, 2013 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution with language to defund U.S. President Barack Obama's national health care plan yesterday, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated the U.S. Senate will not consider the legislation as passed by the House. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee—Getty Images

The Violence Against Women Act first passed in 1994 and will lapse on Dec. 7 for the second time since its passage. The law would have expired Sept. 30, but an extension appeared in the stop-gap funding bill that kept the federal government operating at full capacity, according to Roll Call. The federal government’s partial shutdown may be delayed by two weeks in a bipartisan short-term compromise.

The law funds programs designed to aid victims of intimate partner violence and sexual assault, with a wide-ranging mandate. This includes supporting rape-crisis centers and hotlines, building community programs to combat abuse, and offering legal aid. The original act also provided funds for prosecuting attackers, and revised restitution and sentencing for violent crimes, typically against domestic partners. The current law covers undocumented immigrants and gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals, and Native Americans.

Democratic strategist Adrienne Elrod said it was “abhorrent” before the bill’s expiration in September that changes were being rushed through at the last minute. Those changes never made it into law, as budget debate filled Congress’s agenda.

One of the bill’s original co-authors, Democrat Louise Slaughter of New York, died in February. Her elected replacement, Democrat Joe Morelle, pledged on Dec. 3 to fight for the law’s re-authorization this week, reported the Washington, D.C., ABC TV affiliate. Morelle joined the Willow Domestic Violence Center, RESTORE Sexual Assault Services, and Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York to call for its restoration.

A new stop-gap bill filed in the House Dec. 3, postponing the showdown for a government shutdown on Dec. 7 by two weeks to avoid conflicting with the state funeral of President George H.W. Bush, lacks the language to extend the law, House staffers told Roll Call.

The Violence Against Women Act passed following the rancorous confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1991. It received bipartisan support, with more than half the House and two-thirds of the Senate approving. But it’s had a rocky time, as Republicans almost immediately begin efforts to try to cut its funding.

The act isn’t permanent, but requires renewal, and House Republicans let it lapse in 2011 over bipartisan attempts to extend the act to include temporary visas to undocumented immigrants who were the victims of assault, and to cover same-sex couples. The act was reauthorized in 2013 with substantial majorities in both chambers, including those extensions.

House Democrats have a proposal that would expand programs for youth education and the prevention of violence, and appoint a director position within the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That proposal was stalled under the GOP-led House, which turns over to a Democratic majority and control in January.