WASHINGTON - The GOP-controlled House on Thursday passed a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act that expands federal protections to gays, lesbians and transgender people, Native Americans and immigrants.
The vote was 286-138, and had the support of 87 Republicans. The measure now heads to President Obama, who has said he will sign the legislation.
The law, credited with raising awareness about abuse of women, expired in 2011. While many Republicans agreed renewing the law was necessary, some conservatives raised objections to specific protections for people because of their sexual orientation and the provisions giving Indian courts greater jurisdiction in domestic violence cases.
The measure easily passed the Senate in the last Congress, but stalled in the House. The House's vote on Thursday represents an about-face for Republicans, who recognized they took a drubbing at the ballot box among women voters in the 2012 elections.
Obama won 55% of the women's vote, following a campaign that touched on issues such as contraception and funding of Planed Parenthood. Democrats portrayed the GOP as waging a war on women, hurting the party's standing among a crucial voting bloc.
The legislation authorizes funding for programs that help victims, as well as those that prosecute people accused of domestic violence and sexual assault. There are also new provisions dealing with stalking that would cover the use of spyware and video surveillance equipment.
The original law created a National Domestic Violence Hotline and authorized federal funding for battered women's shelters. It was written and pushed by Vice President Biden when he was in the Senate, and passed in 1994.
The final vote on the Violence Against Women Act came only after House members first rejected a GOP-written version of the bill that did not include the sweeping expansions. It was rejected on a 166-257 vote, including the objections of 59 Republicans.
Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., said the GOP version of the bill would protect all people and not put them into specific categories. She said that measure was "superior," because it was "all-inclusive."
The House then adopted a bipartisan Senate version of the bill, which passed earlier this month on a 78-22 vote. The Senate bill had the support of all 20 women in the chamber and 24 of its 45 Republicans.
Before the House's final vote, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and a dozen Democratic women tied the Violence Against Women Act's renewal to the impending across-the-board spending cuts that kick in Friday. The cuts, known as sequestration, could trim $20 million authorized to enforce the law.
"It is specific, it is large, it is substantial and it must be avoided," Pelosi, D-Calif., said.
Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., criticized Republicans for passing the bill a day before budget cuts will "take a sledgehammer" to programs that support victims of domestic violence. "This is shameful," she said.
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)