AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s two U.S. senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, have signed on as co-sponsors of legislation to replenish funding for the Violence Against Women Act.

The act, first passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005, expired in September 2011. It aims to strengthen criminal justice and community responses to domestic violence.

Collins joined her GOP counterpart from New Hampshire, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, on Wednesday in a press conference to urge quick passage of the reauthorization bill. Maine groups that work with survivors of domestic and sexual assault praised Collins for her advocacy for the act.

King has also agreed to co-sponsor the reauthorization bill.

“My home state of Maine has one of the lowest crime rates in the country,” Collins said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “Tragically, however, half of all murders over the last decade were the result of domestic violence and the number of reported rapes is on the rise. … VAWA has provided invaluable support for law enforcement, courts, rape crisis centers, shelters, prevention efforts, community outreach and programs that provide services for victims and their families. Combating domestic violence and rape should never be a partisan issue, and we must all work together to advance this important legislation.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, introduced the bill Tuesday. They urged immediate action on the proposal, a similar version of which stalled during the previous session in the U.S. House, where Republicans questioned elements of the legislation aimed at providing services to immigrants, gay and transgender populations.

“To better ensure passage of the Senate VAWA bill, this year’s measure does not include the modest increase in the number of visas available to immigrant victims,” a release from Leahy’s office states.

The latest Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act will provide a five-year authorization for VAWA programs, and reduce funding by more than $135 million, or 17 percent, from the law’s 2005 authorization, according to the release from Leahy’s office.

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., introduced identical companion legislation in the U.S. House on Tuesday.

“Since the passage of VAWA, Maine has strengthened laws regarding sexual violence and stalking and has implemented programs which continue to yield tangible results for victims and for public safety,” said Elizabeth Ward Saxl, executive director of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “We are grateful to Sen. Collins for her support of VAWA and for her commitment to violence prevention and response.”

VAWA funds programs such as Sexual Assault Response Teams, which bring together sexual assault survival advocates, law enforcement, health care professionals and prosecutors in each Maine county to provide an organized response to sexual assault, the release states.