Congress fails to reauthorize Violence Against Women Act

The 2005 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act remains law. No provisions will sunset. When Congress first wrote the bill 20 years ago, it required a check up every few years.

But the Congress that just wound down failed to agree on another round of the legislation. The Democratic controlled Senate passed a version extending protections to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and immigrants. That didn’t sell in the Republican dominated House.

So if Congress decides to revisit the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, both chambers must agree just who deserves legal protection.

David Muhlhausen, research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, called the overall bill a federal overreach. He said he does not want any version to grow beyond its current authority.

“In general, it is bad for the federal government to be involved in what is inherently state and local crime, whether it’s domestic violence or not,” he said Wednesday.

Muhlhausen said he isn’t sure Congress will pick up the measure anytime soon.

Shaina Goodman is. She’s the public policy coordinator for the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

She said a reauthorization could lock in long term funding levels.

“Programs that are operating under unauthorized funding levels are at risk of being underfunded, or defunded, or having their funding scheme tweaked that would be harmful to service providers and victims,” she said.

Peggy Brown made the same argument. She’s the executive director of the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

“We have all kinds of things in play that we’re planning to do in 2013 and 2014,” she said in a phone interview from Anchorage. “And now everybody is skittish about planning these things because VAWA wasn’t reauthorized.”

She rattled off programs to deal with domestic trafficking in the state, training for prosecutors, aid for health care providers.

“People are a little hesitant to put a lot of energy in there until we find out if there’s funding,” Brown said.

Brown said 90% of her budget comes from VAWA funding. She’d like to diversify, but said it’s hard.

Any help Alaska might offer remains vulnerable too, Brown said, because VAWA incentivizes states to act by tying federal funding to state action.

“In our state where the numbers are at critical mass, and we’re just getting to the point where we’re actually being effective and perhaps getting people up to speed, benefiting victims of all ages, then this happens.”

Congress could debate the reauthorization anytime. But both chambers are out this week. And when the Senate returns to Washington later this month, yet another fiscal debate will take center stage.

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