VAWA 2013: House GOP Unveils Bill With No LGBT Protections, Modified Tribal Provision


WASHINGTON -- House Republican leaders quietly unveiled their Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill on Friday, a proposal that differs from what the Senate passed last week in a handful of ways, namely in its omission of LGBT protections and its modified language targeting Native American victims of domestic abuse.

The GOP proposal was posted on the House Rules Committee website with little fanfare, along with an announcement that the committee will begin moving the bill forward in a Tuesday hearing. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) will sponsor the bill and the House is expected to bring it to a full vote later next week, a House Republican leadership aide confirmed.

Here is a link to their 288-page bill and a section-by-section analysis of what's in it. House Republicans are planning to take up the Senate bill, strip its contents and put their language into that bill.

A cursory look at the bill reveals some notable changes from the bipartisan VAWA bill that cleared the Senate last week.

The House GOP bill entirely leaves out provisions aimed at helping LGBT victims of domestic violence. Specifically, the bill removes "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" from the list of underserved populations who face barriers to accessing victim services, thereby disqualifying LGBT victims from a related grant program. The bill also eliminates a requirement in the Senate bill that programs that receive funding under VAWA provide services regardless of a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. Finally, the bill excludes the LGBT community from the STOP program, the largest VAWA grant program, which gives funds to care providers who work with law enforcement officials to address domestic violence.

A House GOP leadership aide pushed back on the idea that the VAWA bill doesn't protect LGBT victims.

"The House bill protects all people from discrimination," the aide said. "The Senate bill continues to add people to an enumerated list, therefore excluding those categories not on the list and requiring constant updating. The House bill also allows states, through which VAWA grants flow, to determine the best recipients of those funds, based on the victim populations in their areas."

Another notable difference in the House bill relates to a provision targeting Native American victims. Under the Senate bill, tribal courts would gain new authority to prosecute non-Native American men who abuse Native American women on reservations. The House bill also grants that new authority -- a major change from the bill House Republicans put forward in the last Congress -- but adds a caveat that would allow those people to move their case to a federal court if they feel their constitutional rights aren't being upheld.

Congress failed to reauthorize VAWA last year for the first time since the law's inception in 1994, due in large part to House Republican opposition to the tribal provision. The fact that the House bill includes some kind of tribal provision reflects some movement by GOP leaders toward a bill that can pick up broader support. But even some House Republicans who have advocated for a compromise on the tribal piece say the bill needs to go further on that front.

"The House VAWA bill introduced today represents considerable progress in the right direction for protecting Native women," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), one of two Native Americans in Congress. "However, the legislation still falls short in providing tribes the authority they need to secure their territory and protect their citizens. I intend to offer an amendment to address these shortcomings and I'm hopeful that the final bill will include stronger tribal protections."

Neither House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) nor House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) released statements on Friday about the VAWA bill. But Cantor spokeswoman Megan Whittemore said that the GOP leader is "committed to ending violence against all women" and that the House GOP bill will help law enforcement prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law.

"He has worked hard to build consensus with members on both sides of the aisle and worked alongside advocate groups to put together the strongest possible bill," Whittemore said in a statement.

At least one prominent domestic violence group, the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, has already come out against the House bill.

"Unfortunately, the National Task Force must oppose the House proposed VAWA legislation filed today," reads a statement released by the group on Friday. "This legislation lacks necessary protections for victims of violence and rolls back current law. NTF supports efforts to move the House legislation closer to the inclusive, bipartisan Senate-passed bill."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) trashed the GOP proposal altogether.

"House Republicans just can’t help themselves," Pelosi said in a statement. "Even with a strong, bipartisan bill passed by the Senate for the second Congress in a row, even with countless women in need of support and protection, Republicans are still turning the Violence Against Women Act into a partisan political football."

This is a developing story and has been updated.

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