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Domestic violence bill passes Senate: Is GOP chastened by Election 2012?

The Senate passes VAWA, a domestic-violence bill that was caught in gridlock last year. But signs suggest that the House could be ready to compromise with the Senate this year.

By Staff writer / February 12, 2013

House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia, shown here at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington last week, could be key to the passage of VAWA.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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Washington

The Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act by a broad bipartisan margin on Tuesday, pushing the long-languishing act into the hands of House Republicans who stalled the law’s enactment during the last session of Congress.

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All 55 Democrats joined more than half the Republican caucus (23 in favor, 22 opposed) to pass a bill that reauthorizes some $660 million in funding for violence prevention programs during the next five years.

Everyone in Congress agrees VAWA, as it’s known, is necessary – what’s unknown, like so much else on Capitol Hill, is whether there remains the political will to iron out differences between the House and Senate. But there are several signs that point toward the bill’s enactment this time around.

Democrats sense their GOP colleagues may be making electoral adjustments in light of the shellacking their party took at the hands of female voters in the 2012 elections. Each of the Senate’s 20 female members, including five Republican women, voted for the measure, and eight Republicans switched their votes from “nay” to “aye” since last year's vote.

“One of the lessons from this election is that women are going to stand up,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) of Minnesota after the vote, before referencing several of the GOP’s most wince-inducing statements about women and women’s health from the 2012 election cycle. “I don’t think it’s a surprise that we’re seeing some movement now on the Violence Against Women Act.”

The 2013 law differs from its 2012 version in three key ways that may help its passage.

Gone is an expansion of visas for victims of violent crime that Republicans derided as a backdoor “amnesty” program. Added are two provisions with strong Republican support: one that provides for expedited reviews of untested rape kits and another that reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which aims at helping victims of human trafficking by strengthening coordination between law enforcement agencies and upping penalties for convicted traffickers.

Another sticking point from last year – expanding protections to include the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community – is no longer seen as a deal-breaker. The major hurdle that remains is a provision that allows native Americans to bring charges against their attackers in Indian tribal courts.

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