Scaled-back domestic violence legislation gets top billing

One of the first pieces of legislation the newly minted Senate plans to take up is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which previously failed to pass the last Congress because of Republican opposition in the House.

The law, originally passed in 1994 as part of a larger crime bill, has been reauthorized twice but since its expiration in September 2011, there's been a gap in legal protections and services for women from abusive domestic partners, stalkers and sexual. It easily passed the Senate last year with the support of 15 Republicans but never made it through the Republican-led House.

Proponents introduced a new version of the bill this week that aims to ease Republican concerns. The authors of the new bill included expanded protections for immigrants, members of the LGBT community and Native Americans, but dropped one of the GOP's most pressing concerns: an expansion of the U visa program. The visa would give legal protection to illegal immigrants who are victims of domestic violence and sexual crimes. Last year, a Republican alternative that stripped the U visa provision, as well as the LGBT and Native American provisions, passed the House before stalling in the Senate.

GOP opponents said they did not have an issue with the program but pointed to a procedural problem as the reason for their dismay. They noted that the expanded visa program would raise revenue, and all bills that raise money must originate in the House.

Another cause for concern to Republicans was that Americans could be tried in tribal courts for sexual crimes committed against Native American women. Democrats left that provision in their new bill.

In the Senate, a bipartisan group of senators reintroduced the legislation. Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, reintroduced the legislation, which is co-sponsored by five Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., indicated that the Senate would hold a vote on the legislation soon.

In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., introduced identical legislation but, unlike in the Senate, no Republicans have signed on in support. "Congress must build on this history of progress and reauthorize and strengthen this law without any delay," Pelosi said.

Doug Heye, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said he isn't able to comment because he hasn't seen the bill, but that Republicans are "looking at the best ways to move forward on VAWA legislation so we can protect women and prosecute offenders."

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for