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Senate approves anti-violence against women act

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 12, 2013 at 2:45 pm •  Published: February 12, 2013
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Supporters of the bill say a 1978 Supreme Court decision that denies Indian tribes the power to try non-Indian citizens makes an exception for proceedings that are acceptable to Congress. The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women says the provision is tailored to make sure that all rights guaranteed under the Constitution are given to non-Native defendants.

The Indian court issue is expected to be a hurdle as lawmakers try to reconcile the Senate bill with the eventual House bill. Two House Republicans — Reps. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who is of Native American heritage, and Darrell Issa of California — have been pushing a compromise that would give defendants the right to request that their trial be moved to a federal court if they felt they were not getting a fair trial. Others have argued that those tried in Indian courts should have better defined rights to appeal to federal courts.

The original 1994 Violence Against Women Act, also known as VAWA, was negotiated by Vice President Joe Biden, then a senator from Delaware, and Biden has been in contact with Cantor in the efforts to come up with a new bill.

The White House, which supports the Senate bill, says that among the positive changes created by VAWA are a decline in intimate partner violence by 67 percent between 1993 and 2010 and an increase in victims reporting domestic and sexual violence to police, resulting in more arrests.

The act provides grants to state and local authorities for legal assistance, transitional housing, law enforcement training, stalker databases and domestic violence hotlines. The Senate bill extends the act for five years and provides $659 million for VAWA programs, down 17 percent from the last reauthorization in 2005.

The legislation includes a provision, backed by a bipartisan group headed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, that would speed up the analysis of DNA evidence in rape cases. There's now a rape kit backlog estimated at 400,000, with evidence that might link an assailant to a victim now sitting on police department shelves for months and even years.

Provisions promoted by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's second-ranked Democrat, address sexual assault in immigration detention facilities and help ensure that child sex trafficking victims are referred for treatment rather than prosecuted as criminals.

The Senate on Tuesday also approved an amendment by Leahy reauthorizing a law that funds programs to combat human trafficking both inside and country and around the world.