WASHINGTON – The House on Friday approved a conference committee report that would expand the Violence Against Women Act and more than double funding for the program, which was scheduled to expire this month.
“This bill is the strongest commitment that Congress has ever made to fighting domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Rep. Connie Morella, R- Bethesda and lead sponsor of the bill, in a prepared statement.
She said the Senate is expected to approve the measure early next week.
The bill would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 for five years and provide $3.3 billion during that time for shelters, legal help and a national domestic violence hotline, among other programs for battered women and their children.
The bill also adds sections on dating violence and protection for battered immigrant women, which were not in the original bill. That bill has allocated $1.2 billion for domestic violence programs since 1994.
Michaele Cohen, the executive director of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, said that extraordinary progress was made under the 1994 bill, which included funds to train police officers and prosecutors in domestic violence issues. She said it is “critical” that the funding for these services continue.
“It’s enabled us to do things we’ve never done before. We’ve made so much progress in addressing the issue of domestic violence,” Cohen said. “But we’re running out of money and we don’t want to go back. We don’t want to constrict the services we’ve been offering.”
Morella said the new bill’s inclusion of aid specifically for immigrant women should benefit the state’s large immigrant population.
“Montgomery County and the state of Maryland have a lot of immigrants who are particularly vulnerable” because they are not familiar with where to go for help, Morella said.
The bill had 239 cosponsors and passed the House 371-1 Friday. Morella said she expects unanimous consent Tuesday in the Senate. “I think it will be on the president’s desk by the end of the week,” she said.
But not everyone supports the legislation.
The Independent Women’s Forum said the 1994 act could have been more effective if the money was directed to “ending domestic violence instead of funneling money to the feminist organizations.”
“We’re not pleased with the Violence Against Women Act overall. There’s a number of flaws in the original structure,” said Kimberly Schuld, the forum’s director of policy.
And, while he praised the substance of the bill, an aide to Morella’s challenger for the 8th District congressional seat said it displays the incumbent’s lack of strength in Congress.
“Obviously, the passage was an important priority. But the method it went through reflects a Republican Congress that’s not friendly to women’s issues,” said Derek Walker, campaign manager for Democrat Terry Lierman.
“Morella had to go to the Speaker, hat in hand, and implore him to consider the legislation. The bill was weakened in the committee with Republican leadership,” Walker said. “The only reason it passed was for the election.”
But Cohen is just excited the bill is on its way to passage.
“You’ll hear victory parties if this thing passes. You’ll see us dancing in the streets,” she said.