The Violence Against Women Act, including important new protections, finally may be headed towards reauthorization by Congress.
Earlier, Republicans blocked the reauthorization because they opposed extending the law's protections for some 30 million women who are undocumented immigrants, Native Americans, LGBT, or students on campuses.
This Monday, on the defensive following their trouncing in the November 2012 elections, most Senate Republicans joined every Senate Democrat in voting to bypass a filibuster and move ahead with VAWA reauthorization, including the expanded protections.
The motion to proceed to debate on the bill, S 47, passed the Senate 85-8. The eight Republicans who voted no were: Ted Cruz, Texas; Mike Lee, Utah; Tim Scott, S.C.; Marco Rubio, Fla.; Mike Johanns, Nev.; Rand Paul, Ky.; Pat Roberts, Kan.; and James Risch, Idaho.
Senate Democratic leaders say they have more than 60 votes lined up to pass VAWA, and that is expected to happen later this week.
The Violence Against Women Act, originally enacted in 1994, requires periodic reauthorization. Usually that happens easily with substantial bipartisan support. Each time VAWA has been reauthorized, the National Domestic Violence Hotline explains, improvements have been included.
Last year, the reauthorization passed the Senate 68-31 but was then blocked by Republicans in the House. It appears likely that this time the bill will pick up more Republican votes in the Senate.
And House Republicans are in a tough spot. Last year, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, used an obscure technicality to stymie the bill. The Constitution's Origination Clause requires revenue-raising bills to have their first reading in the House, not the Senate. A provision in last year's Senate VAWA bill would have made visas available to immigrant victims of domestic abuse - and the Republicans decided that the visa fees made this a revenue-raising bill. This time, the Democrats eliminated that provision, while retaining other expanded protections for immigrants.
Now Republicans are seizing on another provision: one that would allow Native American women assaulted on reservations by non-Indians to take their cases to tribal courts. Tribal courts do not currently have jurisdiction over people who do not live on Native land. Some Republicans are calling the bill's provision an unconstitutional expansion of tribal court power. But victims' advocates say Native American women on reservations have no other way to secure justice.
Ultimately, Boehner and his Republican colleagues will have to decide if they will continue to block the highly popular Violence Against Women Act in order to please their ultra-right supporters, or if they will try to appeal to more moderate voters by at long last allowing the law to go forward.
The National Network to End Domestic Violence has an online action page where the public can get more information and also send a message to their congressional representatives to pass the bill.
Photo: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, accompanied by fellow House Democrats, leads a Capitol Hill news conference, Jan. 23, on the reintroduction of the Violence Against Women Act. Jacquelyn Martin/AP