Cantwell, Murray push passage of broader domestic-violence bill

Seattle Times - Susan Kelleher

The state's top elected Democrats rolled into town Monday to make a case for federal legislation that would expand anti-domestic-violence services to underserved populations.

The bill — which would continue to fund programs under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) — has become the latest casualty in the gender wars that have divided Congress recently.

In a news conference at the offices of the King County sheriff, U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell urged Senate colleagues to renew funding for the 18-year-old law — action that got hung up last month when Republicans objected to some provisions.

"This law has provided lifesaving assistance to thousands of women and their families," Murray said. But she and Cantwell said the law should be expanded to assist people who need services but aren't getting them.

Republican leaders have said they don't object to the law as it stands but oppose some proposed changes.

The legislation would continue grants to local law enforcement and shelters for battered women; expand services to Indian reservations and rural areas; add more free legal assistance for victims; and add "stalking" to the behaviors considered domestic violence.

It also would allow battered illegal immigrants to obtain temporary visas and expand domestic-violence services to same-sex couples. Republicans have objected to those provisions, saying that would increase bureaucracy and allow fraud.

Democrats, however, say the proposal would cut spending by 17 percent from 2005 levels and allow for expanded services by consolidating programs to reduce administrative costs and duplication of services.

Washington state received more than $17 million for domestic-violence programs last year. Funding this year was approved through the budgeting process in December. The current bill would authorize funds through 2016.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has accused Democrats of manufacturing a crisis for political gain.

"There is no concern that the VAWA will go away," Grassley said in a recent statement. "The law is being funded and VAWA programs are running as they have since the reauthorization actually ran out last year."

The Senate is expected to take up the reauthorization later this month.

When Congress last reauthorized funds for the law, in 2005, it did so unanimously by voice vote. The current authorization has 61 sponsors.