WASHINGTON – Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown championed Maryland’s efforts to crack down on domestic violence and offer support to abuse victims at a panel hosted by Vice President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C., Wednesday.
Brown and other participants, including former Montgomery County police corporal and Johns Hopkins University instructor David Thomas, briefly discussed the impact of the federal Violence Against Women Act, which is up for reauthorization, on their communities and described their personal experiences with domestic violence.
“There are a lot of things we’re doing in Maryland to fight domestic violence, and a lot of that is dependent on the Violence Against Women Act,” said Brown, whose cousin Cathy was killed by an estranged boyfriend in 2008.
Without the VAWA, Brown said, there would be no funding for programs such as the hospital-based domestic violence programs, currently operated by six medical facilities throughout Maryland, that screen patients and train staff to recognize the signs of domestic abuse and provide specialized treatment. The state also provides electronic notifications of protective orders with federal grant money associated with the act.
The White House panel, as well as a news conference among Senate women on Capitol Hill, was part of a push Wednesday designed to pressure reluctant members of Congress to reauthorize VAWA, which was first approved in 1994.
Thomas, who headed Montgomery County’s domestic violence unit from 1997 until his retirement from the force in 2000, said he was spurred to combat domestic abuse after witnessing a man shoot and kill his wife.
“It was clear that something needed to be done,” Thomas said.
Thomas described a “sea change” in attitudes toward domestic violence and the ability of law enforcement officers to respond since VAWA’s passage. From an average of 69 domestic homicides per year before the law took effect, the number of such killings in Maryland dropped to 27 last year, he said.
“We have seen a great deal of progress, yet there is much more to be done … to make sure the law fulfills its promise,” said Thomas.
Brown called on Congress to reauthorize the act, warning that failure to do so could compromise the state government’s efforts.
“I urge Congress to reauthorize VAWA so that we may continue life-saving efforts throughout Maryland and take another step towards eliminating this senseless crime,” Brown said.
Then-Sen. Biden, D-Del., was the lead VAWA sponsor in the Senate in 1994. Congress has since reauthorized the act twice, in 2000 and 2005.
Congressional Republicans have balked at additional measures Democrats say are necessary to expand the protections granted by the law. Some Republicans in the Senate, where the bill to reauthorize VAWA has eight Republican cosponsors, have accused Democrats of attaching provisions opposed by many conservatives in a deliberate effort to stall the bill for political gain.
In remarks delivered after the discussion panel wrapped up, Biden made no reference to such specifics, instead decrying Congress’ hesitation to reauthorize a law he said should not be controversial.
“Nobody should question whether this is needed,” said Biden, his voice hoarse. “Just imagine the impact on the moral approbation of society if the Congress refuses to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.”
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.; and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called a news conference Wednesday to ask Senate Republicans to support the VAWA reauthorization. Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski was unable to attend because she was speaking on the Senate floor to oppose closing the Easton Mail Processing Center.
Feinstein and Shaheen extolled the benefits the act provided to battered women’s shelters and police forces, which were able to fund units that dealt specifically with violence against women. The extension now pending before Congress extends the original benefits to include aid to Native American reservations and immigrants. Murray said “outliers” in Congress should not stop “serious work” from getting done.
Capital News Service reporter Sarah Hogue contributed to this report.