Despite opposition from conservatives, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act today, approving $3.3 billion in new spending just hours before across-the-board spending cuts are set to take effect.
During his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama proclaimed the measure vital to the nation’s economy: “We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from … the fear of domestic violence,” he said.
Congress originally introduced the act in 1994, but it expired in 2011. Since then it stalled in the Senate as Republicans negotiated some of the fine print. Republicans presented a different version of the bill Feb. 22, but then backtracked four days later. The original bill passed 78-22. Republicans tried a similar substitution in the House, but to no avail. The measure passed the House 286-138 today and will now awaits the president’s signature.
The new version of the law authorizes $659 million a year over five years for transitional housing, legal assistance, law enforcement training and hotlines, reported Fox News. Although the bill is supposed to target women, these resources also are open to men, gays, and prison inmates. The bill also includes measures to improve abuse-awareness on college campuses and a measure to address human trafficking.
Proponents laud it as a progressive step in protecting abuse victims of all types, but critics warn the law is an unnecessary federal overreach, since states already have programs to address domestic violence. They also warn it is expensive and unproven.
“Simply expanding the VAWA framework with extensive new provisions and programs that have been inadequately assessed is sure to facilitate waste, fraud, and abuse and will not better protect women or victims of violence generally,” wrote Heritage Fellow David Muhlhausen last year.
Perhaps most contentiously, it also gives Native American tribal courts permission to try non-Indian American citizens in abuse cases involving female members of their tribes on tribal land. Paul Larkin, also from Heritage, warned the measure violates the Constitution on two points.
“It grants tribal judges authority to enter a final judgment of conviction in certain criminal cases even though tribal judges are not appointed by the President, the head of a department, or a court of law, as Article II requires,” he wrote. “[It also] grants tribal courts that authority even though tribal judges lack the life tenure and salary protection required by Article III.”
Republicans tried to delete the Native American provision and others, including measures giving undocumented abuse victims temporary visas and extending provisions to gays and lesbians. Democrats agreed to rescinded the immigration provision, but everything else remained.
Vice President Joe Biden congratulated Congress for passing the bill, especially thanking House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for not opposing the bill even though he could have, since a majority of the the House majority did not support it.
“This law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse,” echoed the president. He’s expected to sign the law into effect immediately.