The New York Times on Renewing the Violence Against Women Act

Published on February 15, 2013 in the New York Times Opinion Pages

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This week’s 78-to-22 vote in the Senate to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act provided a refreshing demonstration of bipartisanship that the House would do well to emulate. Last year, the Republican-led House blocked the act’s renewal over objections to new protections for gay, immigrant and American Indian victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. It falls to Speaker John Boehner to see that this does not happen again.

The Senate bill would provide services, like shelters and legal help, for abuse victims regardless of their sexual orientation or immigration status. To ease passage in the House, the measure’s lead sponsors, Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, and Michael Crapo, an Idaho Republican, dropped a provision that would have increased the number of visas available for battered women who were undocumented immigrants. Mr. Leahy has said he will push for the increase in future immigration reform efforts.

Other sticking points remain, chiefly the new powers the Senate bill would grant tribal courts, which currently cannot pursue non-Indians who attack Indian women on tribal land. Domestic and sexual violence has been soaring in tribal communities, and the law needs updating to address this prosecutorial gap. The Senate bill requires that criminal defendants in tribal courts be accorded normal constitutional protections. Negotiators are working on possible changes to alleviate Republican concerns about ensuring fair treatment of non-Indian defendants.

In one important change from last year’s bill, the Senate agreed to tack on a renewal of another stalled measure, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. This would toughen penalties for sex traffickers and impose stronger protections for trafficking victims. What should be an uncontroversial bill has been held up by Republicans over the Obama administration’s proper insistence that contractors under the act afford victims access to a full range of reproductive health services.

Seventeen Republican members have written to Mr. Boehner urging action on a Violence Against Women Act renewal that reaches “all victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.” This is a sign that the G.O.P.’s rejection by female voters in November is causing some rethinking. Mr. Boehner should allow a vote on the Senate bill.