WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, joined a solid bipartisan majority Tuesday in voting for passage of a White House-backed bill to expand and renew a landmark 1994 law to combat domestic violence.
On a 78-22 vote — with 23 Republicans joining 53 Democrats and two independents — the Senate sent the measure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act to the Republican-led House of Representative for consideration.
On Feb. 4, Collins spoke in favor of reauthorizing the bill, the funding for which expired in 2011.
“Since its inception in 1994, the programs authorized under this law have provided state and local partners with more than $4.7 billion in assistance,” she said. “This assistance helps to ensure the victims of violence get the help they need to recover, and has prevented incalculable suffering by stopping violent crimes before they happen.”
King issued a statement to accompany Tuesday’s vote, noting that since the funding expired in 2011, more than 16 million people in the United States have experienced domestic or sexual violence.
“While the passage of today’s legislation will not entirely end these heinous crimes, it will restore critical support resources and strengthen successful programs that strive to not only combat, but when possible, prevent domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking,” King said.
The measure would renew anti-domestic abuse programs and provide additional provisions for certain populations, such as Native Americans. The House rejected a similar measure last year during the heat of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
At the time, House Republicans complained about Democratic efforts to extend domestic abuse protections in the Violence Against Women Act to gays, illegal immigrants and Native Americans. Republicans accused Democrats of trying to score political points.
Backers said they are hopeful that the House will go along with the measure this time, or seek common ground on it with the Senate.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said, “I was very encouraged last night to hear that 17 House Republicans” have written their leadership saying, “now is the time to seek bipartisan compromise.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and chief author of the bill, defended the bid to expand protections.
“A victim is a victim is a victim is a victim,” Leahy said, regardless of their sexual orientation, immigration status or if they are a Native American or not.
The bill also includes an amendment to combat human trafficking, which Leahy called “modern-day slavery.”
“We know that young women and girls, often just 11, 12 or 13 years old, are being bought and sold. We know that workers are being held and forced into labor,” Leahy said.
Vice President Joe Biden, while a senator, was a chief author of the Violence Against Women Act, which created an office within the Department of Justice to combat domestic abuse.
Since then, the law has been used to educate the public about domestic violence as well as to create and fund programs to combat it.
“We are grateful to both of Maine’s senators for supporting the Violence Against Women Act,” Elizabeth Ward Saxl, executive director of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said in a statement released after Tuesday’s vote. “With their vote, they have demonstrated their commitment to the work that so many Maine people are doing to end sexual violence and to prevent it in the future.
In Maine, VAWA helps fund programs for domestic and sexual assault survivors in courts, hospitals and resource centers.