The House finally passed the Violence Against Women Act Thursday afternoon, voting 263-to-158 to reauthorize the landmark legislation with updated provisions closing loopholes for tribal nations and barring convicted domestic abusers from obtaining firearms.
VAWA was first passed in 1994 but was allowed to lapse last December. It was temporarily reauthorized for three weeks in late January as part of a short-term spending bill before lapsing again on Feb. 15. Thirty-three Republicans joined the Democrats in passing the current legislation, H.R. 1585, though they were in the clear minority among their party.
The remaining House Republicans (working on behalf of the NRA) took issue with the inclusion of the firearm ban for abusers and naturally accused Democrats of politicizing the bill. The ban closes what is known as the “boyfriend loophole,” as it covers any person that has been convicted of abusing, assaulting, or stalking a current or former partner. Members of the GOP rebuked this as a partisan push for gun control in spite of the fact that women are five times more likely to be murdered if their abusive significant other has a gun, as highlighted on the House floor by Rep. Jennifer Waxton.
The House GOP instead proposed the chamber simply reapprove the 2013 version of the bill, a stagnant move that would have continued to leave large swaths of United States citizens unprotected. For instance, the House Democrats’ version of the bill carved out a substantial amount of space to reverse loopholes that excluded tribal governments and Indigenous women from falling under the full protections of VAWA.
To underscore this achievement, Rep. Sharice Davids, of the Ho-Chunk Nation, presided over the vote on Thursday. Davids is one of two Native women in Congress. Her counterpart, Rep. Deb Haaland, of the Pueblo of Laguna, introduced and passed a pair of amendments on Wednesday specifically aimed at combatting the ongoing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis, as well as the high rates of domestic and sexual violence faced by Native and Indigenous women in the United States.
One of Haaland’s amendments provided victims’ advocate services for Natives peoples living in urban areas—roughly 71 percent of Natives live in urban or suburban settings thanks to colonization—while the other increased accessibility to a domestic violence survivor database meant to increase communication between tribal police and American law enforcement. Her amendments were joined by five others introduced and passed by voice vote, including one by Rep. Don Young that allows Alaska Native villages to finally be granted jurisdiction to enforce the law.
The bill will now head to the GOP-controlled Senate, where its chances of passing seem slim, especially given the fact that the Senate has yet to bring a VAWA reauthorization bill to a full chamber vote yet. Should the Senate allow the bill to lapse for an extended period of time, the onus would be on congressional appropriators to carve out the funding the bill provides separately, as was done when the bill lapsed between 2010 and 2013. While the majority of the grants and funding provided by VAWA have already been allocated for the majority of the year, if the bill is allowed to lapse further into the fall, resources for shelters and social service agencies will be put at risk.
Given their track record, waiting for GOP senators to take a stand for victims of sexual, physical, or emotional violence should mean the VAWA gets passed in a decade or so.