Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) says he will push for expanded visas for battered… (Alex Wong, Getty Images )
WASHINGTON — With broad support from the Senate, legislation to renew and expand the Violence Against Women Act is heading to the House, where a previous renewal bid failed over Republican concerns about new services for gay, immigrant and Native American victims of domestic violence.
The Senate's 78-22 vote Tuesday reauthorizing the act extends central provisions, such as funding for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, while also expanding services to groups it did not previously serve.
The act, first passed in 1994, was reauthorized twice before with bipartisan support. The proposed reauthorization, which 23 Republican senators supported Tuesday, would extend services through 2018.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said at a news conference following the vote that women across the country would be watching Congress closely as it considered the legislation.
"One of the lessons from this election is that women are going to stand up — they're going to stand up for themselves — and when people start messing around with questioning rape and questioning victims and talking about things in ways that women find offensive, they're going to respond," Klobuchar said.
Some House Republicans have already shown support for the measure. On the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the bill's author, submitted into the record a letter 17 House Republicans sent to their leadership Monday urging support for the act. The support of those representatives would be added to the support expected from the House's 200 Democrats, 195 of whom are already sponsors of the Senate bill's language.
In a White House news release following the Senate vote, President Obama praised the effort for its bipartisanship: "It's now time for the House to follow suit and send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law."
The Senate bill dropped a specific provision that was a sticking point with House Republicans in last year's attempt to reauthorize the act. That provision would have expanded visas for battered immigrants, and would technically have raised revenue, which the Constitution allows only the House to initiate. The bill now includes modest improvements for immigrants but not the visa provision, which Leahy has said he will push for in immigration reform efforts.
Last year, the House responded to the Senate bill with its own bill, omitting the visa provision along with services for gay victims. It also rejected a proposal to allow Native American courts to try non-Natives, which the courts can't do now.
Opponents have raised concerns that the tribal courts provision might take away Americans' due process rights.