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Senate Democrats and Republicans said they’ve struck a deal to renew the Violence Against Women Act and that the chamber may take up the legislation after the Presidents Day recess.
At a bipartisan Capitol news conference on Wednesday that featured actress Angelina Jolie, Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the bipartisan agreement reached to update the 1994 law has the backing of almost 60 lawmakers, the number needed to overcome a filibuster threat.
Durbin expressed confidence that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will soon be able to schedule the VAWA rewrite for floor action.
“He wants to call this as quickly as we can,” Durbin said at the news conference, where senators from both sides of the aisle praised the measure. “We’re perilously close to 60 votes.”
The 1994 act, created to combat the abuse of women, was sponsored by President Joe Biden during his Senate tenure. Among other things, the law authorizes funds for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women and established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Justice Department. But in recent years lawmakers have been unable to reach agreements to reauthorize the law.
In a statement released after the news conference, Biden said he’s “grateful that this critical bipartisan bill is moving forward, and I look forward to Congress delivering it to my desk without delay.”
The House passed its VAWA bill (H.R. 1620) in March 2021 by a 244-172 vote that had the backing of 29 Republicans. That measure would have barred individuals convicted of stalking from possessing firearms, language not in the legislation released by senators.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a victim of sexual abuse, said she’s certain more Republicans will sign on to the Senate legislation and the chamber will pass it. The agreement she and Durbin announced now has nine cosponsors from each party.
“The point is not for it to be a political football to use as a tool during campaigns, but to do the right thing by survivors and to prevent violence in the future,” Ernst said.
Other lawmakers lining up to praise the measure were Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
The effort to reauthorize VAWA also got a boost from Jolie, who said at the news conference that Congress sent a negative message to women suffering abuse when they didn’t renew the law in previous years.
“The reason that many people struggle to leave abusive situations is that they’ve been made to feel worthless when there is silence from a Congress too busy to renew the Violence Against Women Act for a decade,” Jolie said.
Three Years to Strike Deal
Feinstein said lawmakers have been trying for three years to strike a deal.
The legislation they introduced Wednesday would reauthorize VAWA through fiscal 2027 with a number of improvements to current law, she said.
Among other things, the measure would support services for young victims of violence, including an extension of the Rape Prevention and Education Grant Program and changes to grants focused on prevention education for students at colleges and universities.
The bill also would renew the Justice Department’s STOP Violence Against Women program, update the SMART Prevention Program to reduce dating violence, help children who have been exposed to domestic violence, and engage men in preventing violence.
To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at email@example.com