Senator Charles Schumer is hoping to gain support for the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act which comes to a vote this week, but the bill is meeting resistance by some members of the Senate and House.
The original 1994 VAWA bill was written by Schumer when he was a member of the House. It was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005, but the bill expired in 2011.
"We know the bill works, so it doesn't make sense to not renew it and strengthen it," Schumer said Wednesday in a conference call.
Schumer said since its enactment, the bill has reduced domestic violence by more than 50 percent. In April of 2012, it passed out of the Senate with 68 to 31 votes, but the bill languished in the House.
"Many of the programs have continued to receive funding over the last year thanks to continuing resolutions passed by the House and Senate," Schumer said.
He said the bill will improve law enforcement training, crackdown on Internet stalking and place special focus on stopping sexual violence in rural communities.
Schumer cited recent data from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services showing about 43,800 domestic abuse incidents in which law enforcement was called to the scene in 2011 in Upstate New York. In Western New York, there were 8,597 reported incidents of domestic violence and 2,750 reported in the Southern Tier.
"There is nothing more important than protecting our women, children and other victims of domestic violence, and I'm calling on my Senate colleagues to pass this life-saving legislation without further delay," Schumer said.
"For years, the Violence Against Women Act has helped send lifesaving dollars to Upstate New York communities to develop specialized law enforcement units, train professionals in handling domestic violence and sexual assault, improve prosecutions of these crimes, and provide services to victims," he explained.
However, there is opposition in the Senate and particularly House. When asked by the OBSERVER about resistance to the legislation, Schumer said, "I don't know what it is. I think some people just don't want the federal government involved in these things. Some didn't like the provisions for tribal lands," referring to the Grants to Indian Tribal Governments Program in the law.
According to the Office on Violence Against Women, a division of the Department of Justice, the provision "is designed to enhance the ability of tribes to respond to violent crimes against Indian women, enhance victim safety, and develop education and prevention strategies." The provision provides funding for services available to women who are victims of violence on tribal lands, education and prevention programs, addressing needs of children who witness domestic violence, provide transitional housing to victims and other services.
The OVAW website states in 2008, the Tribal Governments Program funded 65 projects totaling approximately $30 million to 142 individual tribes, tribal consortia, and other organizations designated to receive funds on behalf of tribes. Law enforcement agencies across the state have received over $145 million in federal funds through programs including funding for training, education and outreach through state and federal agencies since 2006, according to Schumer.
The legislation includes new programs designed to specifically combat Internet stalking and other uses of social media that can lead to domestic violence. The bill would extend these grant programs for an additional five years.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched a commercial on Tuesday blaming House majority Leader Eric Cantor for the bill's delay. On Wednesday, he said, "We want to protect the women who are subject to abuse on tribal lands, and unfortunately there are issues that don't directly bear on that that have come up, that have complicated it."
In December, Cantor said he was working with Vice President Joe Biden and hopes to reach a solution, "But in working with ... the vice president's (office), I hope to be able to deal with this and bring it up in an expeditious manner," he said earlier this week.
"If you don't have the tribal courts on board with this, then you're going to have violence against women on reservations," Schumer said.
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