WASHINGTON (AP), A bipartisan group U.S. senators presented Wednesday a proposal to reauthorize a 1990s-era law which extends protections to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault after it was repealed by the Republican Party in 2019.
Senator Dick Durbin, along with his Democratic and Republican counterparts, announced a bill to extend the Violence Against Women Act. He was joined by Angelina Jolie, an advocate and domestic violence survivor, and his Democratic and Republican counterparts.
Durbin, D.Ill. said, "For those who have lost hope on the United States Senate working, passing important laws and working together on a bilateral basis, take a glance behind me."
2013 was the last time that the law was reauthorized. The Senate legislation was blocked by Republicans in 2013 because of a provision prohibiting persons convicted of misdemeanor stalking possession firearms. This was opposed by the National Rifle Association. This provision was removed from the agreement.
This law was first introduced in the Senate by President Joe Biden in 1990, when he was a senator representing Delaware. It aims to reduce domestic violence and to improve response through a variety grant programs. Four years later, a second version was included in a comprehensive crime bill that President Bill Clinton signed into law. The Violence Against Women Act has been reauthorized three times by Congress since.
Wednesday's bipartisan proposal did not include the so-called boyfriend loophole. Republican Senator Joni Ernst from Iowa and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein from California have been working together on the plan to extend law with 60 votes. The lawmakers believe that this time, they can make it happen.
Ernst, a victim of domestic violence, said that he had full confidence that the bill would pass the Senate. "And I know there were provisions that were not included in the bill. It is not meant to be used as a political tool in campaigns.
She said that although Democrats don't like the inclusion of the restriction on firearms for potential abusers, it's important to get at least 60 senators to agree on something. "Then come back to work on the issues we haven’t been able solve yet."
Durbin, chief voter counter for the Democrats, stated that while the Senate is "perilously close" to reaching the threshold of support, it will not reach the floor until late February.
Jolie stated that the stakes were high for lawmakers. She said, "I repeat, this is one the most important votes that you will cast this Year in the Senate."
The original bill established the Office on Violence Against Women in the Justice Department. This Office has given grants totaling more than $9 billion to various state and local governments, non-profits, and universities over the years. These grants are used to fund programs such as crisis intervention, transitional housing, and legal assistance for victims. The reauthorization, according to supporters, would increase spending on training law enforcement officers and the courts.