WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced a deal Wednesday to renew the Violence Against Women Act, a decades-old law that provides protections against domestic and sexual violence that lawmakers have failed to reauthorize in recent years.
Past efforts to reauthorize the legislation haven't garnered enough GOP support, but the bipartisan group predicted it will have enough votes in the Senate to pass the bill due to a compromise over a controversial provision called "the boyfriend loophole."
“There are provisions that all four of us very much wanted to include, such as an end to the loophole that allows abusers who harm dating partners to continue to have access to guns,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., referring to the elimination of the so-called “boyfriend loophole," which has in the past drawn objections from National Rifle Association.
Durbin said he would like a separate vote on the measure, but “that provision became controversial, and we had to measure the remainder of the bill against that provision.”
The senators predicted that without the provision, the bill is likely to make it through the Senate and be signed into law by President Joe Biden.
The group, led by Durbin and Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, unveiled the new plan at a press conference on Capitol Hill.
The Violence Against Women Act was originally signed into law in 1994, and then-Sen. Biden was the primary author of the legislation. The act aims to support survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking using federal grants. The reauthorization would expand upon those measures.
Durbin said they would introduce the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2022 to “update and strengthen the law to ensure that it can meet the current needs of survivors, increase prevention, and improve the response to violence.” The bill would reauthorize the act through 2027.
The new provisions include efforts to better reach young people, survivors over 50 years old or with disabilities, those who live in rural communities, and Native Americans.
"This VAWA meets survivors where they are with responses and services specific to their needs," said Ruth Glenn, president of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Feinstein said the bill "preserves the good work of the last reauthorization bill in 2013, and it strengthens existing programs to support survivors, and to prevent and to respond to domestic violence – and that's dating violence, it's sexual assault, it's stalking."
Ernst noted that in the bill they "have increased support for the rape prevention and education program, instead of reacting to these horrific crimes. This program works to prevent them from happening in the first place."
“I’m a survivor, I know firsthand what happens when someone you trust abuses you,” Ernst said.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the reauthorization would "provide critical resources to support survivors of domestic violence" and "provide additional tools to assist law enforcement in responding to investigating and prosecuting these heinous crimes."
Murkowski, who worked on the tribal portion of the bill, said it would further protect Native women on tribal land by improving access to information and care. The legislation requires renewal every five years, but expired in February 2019. The act was previously reauthorized in 2000, 2005, and 2013. Despite the expiration, Congress still funds the act’s grant programs. Last year, the House passed another reauthorization act, but it did not make it through the Senate.
Feinstein said that nine Republican and nine Democrats support the bill. Durbin later added “we’re perilously close to 60 votes.”
Actress Angelina Jolie, who has advocated for the reauthorization, said at the announcement “the reason that many people struggle to leave abusive situations is that they’ve been made to feel worthless. When there is silence from a Congress too busy to renew the Violence Against Women Act for a decade, it reinforces that sense of worthlessness.”
“This is one of the most important votes you will cast this year in the Senate,” she said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Violence Against Women Act: senators reach deal to reauthorize measure