NEW ALBANY — Bipartisanship is a rarity nowadays within our federal government. So when the Senate extended the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on Feb. 12 with a 78-22 vote, people noticed.
More than half of all the Republican senators joined Democrats and Independents in favor. When Sens. Dan Coats and Diane Feinstein agree on something, you know the legislation must be worthwhile.
Of course, I wish this spirit of bipartisanship could be extended to fixing the nation’s budget woes before the upcoming sequestration happens. Programs, including some funding to domestic violence initiatives, will be cut at the end of this week unless Congress acts accordingly.
But back to the matter at hand.
The VAWA now has headed to the House for approval. Preparing to take up the bill this week, the Republican majority on Friday offered its own version of the plan. Several contentious issues were included in the Senate legislation that the House Republicans didn’t support, mainly in regards to expanding the bill to better cover gays and lesbians, Native Americans and illegal immigrants. In their legislation, the House changed the language in VAWA to reflect some of these differences.
In the House version, the act no longer explicitly stipulates protection for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBT). Supporters of this contend their broader definition still encompasses gays and lesbians and a separate mention is unnecessary.
But those within the community argue that service providers could turn away victims due to their sexual orientation. And it might be considered legal without the aforementioned protection built within the law.
A National Violence Against Women survey found that 11 percent of lesbians and 15 percent of gay men have reported being victimized by their same-sex partner. Fear of homophobia with law enforcement and other aid agencies, not to mention their sexual orientations being made public, keep many of these abuse victims from reporting the crimes.
Likewise, Republican Caucus leaders also watered down the effects of the law on Native American land. Currently, non-Native Americans living on tribal land who are arrested must be prosecuted in Federal court. The problem occurs when federal law enforcement offices are hundreds of miles away from the situation. They rarely prosecute roughly 50 percent of these crimes due to their limited resources. As the laws are written, local tribal and state officials can do little to help the situation. They just don’t have the authority.
According to the American Bar Association, Native American women are more than two times as likely to be sexually assaulted as other racial groups. Around 70 percent of these instances have been perpetrated by non-Native Americans.
Both bills do offer changes that will help fix the loophole and give greater protection to this underserved community which is a welcome step. It’s just a question of how much protection each gives and to whom it is given.
Given our current economic issues, it’s also important to note that the current bill provides 17 percent less funding for the programs than the previous reauthorization in 2005. Yes, the government is reducing spending on its own without needing automatic across-the-board cuts. Shocking to say the least.
With the challenges the bill still faces, many question whether the legislative branch can work out a compromise and get VAWA passed. Just last year they failed to renew similar legislation due to the same type of disagreement. The 2013 versions shouldn’t have to suffer a similar fate.
Congress must work together to ensure vital legislation like VAWA gets passed. And yes, I’m a little skeptical. Surprise me Washington and come together to do what’s right. After all, isn’t that what we elected you to do?
— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org