Senate Democrats Introduce  VAWA Reauthorization

Senate Democrats Introduce VAWA Reauthorization


33 House Republicans voted for this bill. The bill would extend VAWA for five years through 2024. A little bit of history: this bill was signed into law by President Clinton in 1994. It’s been reauthorized three times. It’s not permanent. It had to be reauthorized. In 2000, 2005, and 2013 it expired. As I said, February 15th of this year. Funding continues, but key improvements are being delayed by lack of reauthorization. There are three new key provisions. One, it strengthens tribal sovereignty. I come from the state of California. We have the largest American Indian population in the United States in our state. And this allows tribes to prosecute non-Indians for sexual violence, stalking, sex trafficking, and obstruction of justice on their land. In California, we have 360,000 Indians who are resident citizens and live in our state. The bill secondly provides protections for LGBT people. It explicitly states that grant recipients can train staff to prevent LGBT discrimination. And the gun provision is very simple. It adds dating partners who have convictions of domestic violence to the category of people barred from having handguns. It also adds stalking problems—stalking conditions. The fact of the matter is that for women, guns in a household are extraordinarily difficult and the gun is the weapon first gone through—gone to many times when violence against women takes place. So this is a bill that we should really pass. Women are a majority of the populace. When I came to the Senate, there were two. And now we have 24 women in the United States Senate. So things are changing. I hope with the women, as well as with the solid Democratic support, that we will be able to pass this. And now if I might introduce our distinguished leader from the great state of New York. I will be brief. Okay, thank you senators Feinstein, Hirono, and Klobuchar, who we call Amy K. even though she’s not in a Franz Kafka novel. As well as senators Udall and Leahy. Yes, she sort of hits a good point. It’s been 223 days since the House passed the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization. 223 days since the House Democrats and Republicans in a large bipartisan vote sent to the Senate a bipartisan bill that would better protect women who have endured domestic violence. Senator McConnell continues to block the bill. It was one of the first items in his legislative graveyard and it remains there, as does everything else. The bill isn’t controversial. It says if you’re assaulted by your domestic partner or a former partner, not just a spouse, you’re protected. The updated legislation says if you stalked your partner or have a restraining order against you, you shouldn’t be able to purchase a firearm. Some of the bull I’ve heard from the other side, “Oh” someone will say, “they’re stalking and prevent them.” No! There has to be a conviction of a certain sort to make it work. So this is not loosely drawn at all, but leader McConnell is so hell-bent on blocking bipartisan bills that would help the American people, and in this case actually save lives. He’s willing to tell women seeking protection from abusive partners, “you’re on your own.” That’s reminiscent of what police departments and men would do for centuries when a woman showed up at a police station battered and bruised. They’d say you’re on your own, go fix it yourself. Of course we’ve come a long way, but not long enough. And the amendments that both, uh, that senator Feinstein has added in the bill—one of them worked on very hard by Amy K.—should be there. We keep wanting to make the bill better and better and better. And let me make a few more quick points: women of color, who experience disproportionate rates of abuse, need this legislation authorized. 45% of African American women have experienced sexual assault, intimate partner violence, or stalking at some point in their lives. One in three Latinas have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner, and 55 percent of Native American women, who we’re trying to protect, one in five Asian and Pacific Islander women experiencing, reported experiencing rape, physical violence, or stalking. So it affects women across the country of every race, creed, color, economic level, but particularly minority women. Shame. Shame on Senator McConnell for not bringing this bill to the floor. Senator Leahy and then Senator Klobuchar, Hirono. You know many of you as members of the Senate came together six years ago to pass the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. At that time, we had people tell us we should have a watered down version. Senator Crapo and I, joined by every Democrat that’s in the Senate at the time. I said we should have a tougher bill. We chose to stand by the survivors and the victim services professionals who called for legislation to protect all victims. We did that regarding, regardless of the immigration status. We removed barriers for sexual orientation and we included those who are members of an Indian tribe. Now those same victims and their advocates are calling for further improvements to VAWA. And I’m proud to again stand with them. And to stand with my dear friend Senator Dianne Feinstein to introduce legislation that’s already passed the House with a very strong bipartisan vote. It’d easily pass the Senate if Senator McConnell allow it to come to the vote. I think he’d get a majority of senators. And we’ll keep working to get the same majority we did before. I want to reach out to Republicans with the same message we had in 2013 when Senator Crapo and I wrote the update VAWA. It’s not about politics. It’s about listening to survivors. It’s giving those on the frontlines who are working to prevent domestic violence all the tools they need. Now, just like in 2013, this is not our bill. It’s a survivors bill. And I talk with survivors and advocates when I’m home in Vermont. I hear the heartbreaking stories of people trying to rebuild their lives. I remember the days when I was a prosecutor and we didn’t have VAWA. We didn’t have the help. And what I would usually see, if somebody was a victim, was at two or three o’clock in the morning… be there with the police. All I could do was order the autopsy on the body that was there before me because there’d been nowhere for her to go. Nowhere to seek help. Nowhere. Nowhere. Our bill gives that where. And I remember every single one of those cases. And I thought, why can’t we get somebody that they could go to? Because we would, the police, my office would often hear it for the first time when I’m ordering the autopsy. That’s not good. So VAWA, what they support, makes a real difference to these survivors and their families. We owe it to them to get it enacted now. This is not a political thing. This is not Republican or Democrat. This is what we do for the people of our country. But God’s sakes. Bring the bill up and pass it. Okay, well, thank you so much Senator Leahy, Senator Feinstein for your longtime leadership of the Judiciary Committee. And I’m pleased to be here as well with Senator Udall and Senator Shaheen, big supporters of this bill, and Senator Hirono, who’s worked with me on this gun provision for a long time when it was only us. And now it actually has gotten strong enough support that it was in the House-passed bill. Got 33 Republican votes, we should note. And it is time to get this done. So when I was the county attorney in Minnesota’s biggest county, we had a poster outside of my door of my office. And it was a picture of a woman who had been beaten up by her spouse. And it had a band-aid over her nose and the words on it read, “Beat your wife and it’s your son that goes to jail.” Why? Well, it reminded everyone that domestic violence doesn’t just hurt one person. It hurts entire families, entire communities. One study found that kids who see domestic violence, witness it, are more than twice as likely to commit some kind of violent act themselves. It’s the whole community. That’s why we work so hard, as Senator Leahy and Senator Feinstein explained, to pass the domestic violence bill back in 2013. We really had to go to the mat, and the big breakthrough to make sure we had the provisions in there on immigration and LGBTQ and on some of the other very—the tribal provisions, it was when all 20, at the time 20, women senators, Democrats and Republicans, stood together and said we are insisting that this be in the bill. Well, we want to see that same kind of action from our Republican colleagues this time. This bill is really quite straightforward. Provision on guns—I actually had someone say to me on the Senate floor, why would guns be in the domestic violence bill? And I’m like, “Have you seen the statistics on how so many of these tragic relationships end?” So what this says is right now in federal law…the…it only prohibits domestic abusers from buying a gun. These are people who are convicted of domestic abuse if they were married to, lived with, or had a child with the victim. But it completely excludes dating partners and yet nearly half of the women killed by intimate partners, this is a DOJ statistic, are killed by dating partners. When the Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on this bill in 2014, way back then two Republican witnesses agreed that extending the provisions to dating partners would be a good idea. We have that on the record, and we can give it to you if you would like. At the hearing a conservative sheriff from Racine County said, quote, “Dangerous boyfriends can be just as scary as dangerous husbands. They hit just as hard and they fire their guns with the same deadly force.” So that’s all you need to know about why that boyfriend loophole closure is included in the House-passed bill. And in our Senate bill that was just introduced with Senator Feinstein’s leadership. So the second part is stalking. Stalking is often the first step in a pattern of behavior that culminates in physical violence. The idea is simple: the bill would stop stalkers from purchasing or possessing a gun. This idea is based on existing law in many states, including my own. It will protect people from gun violence, according to the Center for Disease Control. And we would like them to keep more statistics on gun violence, which would be very helpful in looking for solutions, but according to the CDC between 2001 and 2010 states that stopped convicted stalkers from owning guns had a gun homicide rate for women that was 28% lower than the national average. Those are, those two simple provisions that are in this bill that 33 Republicans voted for over in the House. I’ll close with this: I started with this idea. It’s not just one victim, it’s the whole communities. I was reminded of this when I was at a funeral for a police officer in Lake City, Minnesota. He had gone to a scene, called by a young woman, the police department, that her boyfriend was abusing her. He shows up. The guy’s got a gun. Shoots the police officer, who’s wearing a bulletproof vest. But shoots him in the head. So I’m at that funeral and I see the widow walked down the aisle of that church with these two little boys, her sons, and her little baby in her arms, a little girl in a dress covered in blue and white stars. The last time that family had been in the church was the dad in the front row when the kids were in the nativity play for the church. And they were back for his funeral. That’s how it affects the whole community. So we call on our Republican colleagues to not hide in the shadows here, to be willing to at least stand up to the NRA on this very focused provision on stalking and on domestic homicides with this boyfriend loophole, and get this done. If 33 of their Republican colleagues in the House will vote for it, come on, we can get this done. Senator Hirono, thank you. Thank you. Senator Feinstein, and all of my colleagues who are here, and so many of the Democratic senators who have signed on to this bill, you’ve heard all of the arguments for why this bill should pass. Do you know why it’s not passing? Because there’s a provision that disallows people who have been convicted of misdemeanor stalking from owning guns. Guess what the NRA, and I guess Mitch McConnell, decides this is an expansion of the prohibition on people’s so-called right to own guns—which is, by the way, no right is unfettered—so that’s why this bill is going nowhere. Because it has a provision relating to preventing certain other people who have been convicted, or who have certain court protective orders against them from owning guns. That is the only reason that I conclude this bill is not going anywhere. So, as Senator Klobuchar mentioned, this is totally cowtowing, submitting, to the NRA over the need to protect women, marginalize people in this country, Native American women—by the way, I’m so glad you know, in 2013 we extended the authority for tribal courts to go after non-Indians who come on to tribal lands and commit domestic violence and sexual offenses. That they up to that point, that the tribal courts did not have jurisdiction to prosecute these non- tribal perpetrators. So it awaited non- tribal courts to go after these people, and of course didn’t happen. So 2013 we made this provision in VAWA, very critical. And today with this bill we’re expanding those kinds of protections for people who come on to tribal lands and hurt children, the elderly, and the police. Because as I mentioned before when police show up at domestic violence scenes it is a very dangerous environment. It’s an environment with, where people shouldn’t have guns. And you know, it’s amazing the statistics relating to violence against American Indians and Alaskan Natives. More than four and five American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime. This is many times more than in the general population of women. And 96%, 96% of American Indian and Alaska Native women who suffer sexual violence were victimized by a non-Indians. That is why it was so important to make those changes in 2013. This is a result of victim groups coming forward to tell us there are other loopholes that we need to close to protect victimized people in this country whether you’re a woman, whether you’re a dating partner, whether you’re a child, senior police officers—there are a lot of people in this country who are subjected to gun violence and this is a bill that will close some of those loopholes so that we can protect our people. And that is, that is why this bill is going nowhere. The NRA once again has its way. It’s time to stop that. I want to thank my colleagues. Let me just mention that there were three ranking members that really helped with this one of them is Senator Udall, the other Senator Brown, and one Senator Murray. And, oh, I was gonna—why are they leaving? So I was going to introduce next Senator Udall. Okay well I really wasn’t on your schedule, but I’m happy to just say a couple of words. But first of all this is the issue of tribal sovereignty and we need to make sure that this bill is reauthorized so that Native women on reservations, and across the country and in Native communities are protected. Mazie told you the statistics. They’re overwhelming. And, and it’s just an outrage that Senator McConnell, the majority leader, this goes into his graveyard and and he won’t let it come out. And, and that message has to get out there loud and clear. One little story. When I was a prosecutor, an attorney general, the way it used to be when police officers would go to a door, in terms of domestic violence, they, they would say, “Keep it down.” They’d go knock on the door, they’d see that there was a real problem, and they would say, “Keep it down, down.” And, and that’s how much law enforcement was involved. No longer is that the case. We have VAWA. We’ve moved forward in a very, very dramatic way, but we still have a long way to go. And so it’s a, it’s such an honor to work with the women that are here, with the women across the Senate, that are standing up. And with all of us that care about making sure that we do away with domestic violence and domestic abuse. Thank you, Senator Feinstein. Any questions? If there please, woman first. “Yes, well I’m not going to obviously go into the details, but the months went on and I say, it’s been eight months since it passed the House. In the meantime the bill goes into more and more jeopardy the longer it waits. So it was obvious that we weren’t going to come to an agreement at that time, so I indicated to her that I was going to introduce it and happy to continue meeting. We…the three points, I think, are the points of issue. And we’ve asked for some response from the other side but haven’t gotten one to date, so I’m hopeful that this will continue to go on. Yes, sir, well I think the fact that this passed the House with such a substantial margin, and the fact that there are 33 Republicans from the House who voted for it, really are your answer. This is not a Republican or a Democratic bill. This is a survivor bill. …we haven’t discussed that are bipartisan bills, like the Abby Honold Bill that I did with Senator Cornyn involving police training in rape cases. That’s just one. And there are dozens and dozens and dozens of bills like that. So a lot of this negotiation has happened and as Senator Feinstein said, you already saw bipartisan support. The tribal issue is hanging this up, but in a very big way the NRA. And I would note I just got hold of the 2019 letter from the NRA to our colleagues against this bill, um, on the House side and at the bottom it says, “Due to the importance of this issue, votes on this legislation will be considered in future candidate ratings and endorsements by the NRA Political Victory Fund.” So there’s your answer… that what Senator Klobuchar just said, that of all that goes on out there in these relationships, that what it came down to was that one issue, when in fact so many women are killed by guns and it’s tragic. It’s a misimpression. The only thing we can do is pass this bill and show through history that it can make a difference. Thanks everybody. I just want to add, just so it’s crystal hundred percent clear, the reason this bill isn’t going anywhere is because the NRA. And the need that Mitch McConnell has to not pass any, not bring any legislation to the floor that has any gun safety provisions in there that’s the reason. Okay, everybody got that? Yes, amazing. And I have been working on this, as I’ve mentioned, this hearing back in 2014 so for something like four or five five years, six years—I don’t know, it’s been a long time—so I don’t think we were thinking ahead to this moment. No, we were thinking about saving lives. Thank you all very much. Thank you.

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