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  • The San Juan Daily Star

House passes bill to bolster protections for women facing violence

Introduced by a bipartisan group of senators, the measure would expand protections for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, among other things.

By Annie Karni

The House earlier this week voted to renew a lapsed law aimed at preventing domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, approving the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a top priority of President Joe Biden.

The measure was included in a sprawling $1.5 trillion spending package to fund the government through September. First written by Biden in 1994 when he was in the Senate, the law expired in 2019 under President Donald Trump and has languished since, even as Biden has pressed for Congress to strengthen and renew it.

The legislation goes next to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

“The expiration of VAWA three years ago put many lives in jeopardy,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, said in a statement, using the acronym for the law. “It is such good news that it is finally being reauthorized.”

He called it “one of the most important laws passed by Congress in the last 30 years.”

Introduced by a bipartisan group of senators, the measure would expand protections for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, provide more resources and training programs for law enforcement, fund rape crisis centers and broaden access to legal services for survivors, among other things.

It would also require the federal government to notify state and local law enforcement authorities when a convicted domestic abuser lies on a background check in an illegal attempt to buy a gun.

The act’s renewal has taken on added urgency because of an alarming spike in domestic violence that has coincided with the coronavirus pandemic. Sociologists said instances of domestic violence often increase during periods when families spend more sustained time together.

But despite that uptick, and the uncontroversial nature of many of the programs, negotiations on the measure became entangled in some fierce partisan disputes.

Democrats sought to add provisions that would restrict access to firearms by people convicted of violent crimes. That spurred aggressive pushback from conservative Republicans who oppose any curb on gun rights.

Bowing to Republicans, Democrats dropped what many of them had considered a key provision to close what is known as the “boyfriend loophole,” which would prohibit dating partners, not just spouses, from owning guns if they had been convicted of domestic violence.

Last year, the House passed its own version of the reauthorization that included such a provision, winning the support of 29 Republicans.

“Because married women aren’t the only victims of domestic violence, we must close the dating partner loophole that puts so many unprotected women and children at risk,” Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a prominent gun control organization, said in a statement. Gun violence prevention groups said they planned to press Biden to address the issue through executive action.

Other advocates hailed the reauthorization of the act as a major win for gun safety, even without closing the loophole.

“Federal authorities will finally be required to let local law enforcement know when a domestic abuser or other convicted criminal tries to illegally buy a gun, which is a huge red flag for potential gun violence,” said John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety.

Though the Violence Against Women Act expired three years ago, Congress has continued to fund many of its programs. The spending bill would provide $575 million in funding for the measure’s prevention and prosecution programs.

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