The future of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) may ride on whether two U.S. senators, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Iowa Republican Joni Ernst, can find common ground on gun rights and several other thorny social issues, the Sacramento Bee reports. VAWA authorizes an array of grants for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, as well as programs to support victims. The most recent version of the law expired in February, although its programs are funded through September. The Democrat-led House — with the support of 33 Republicans — voted Thursday to extend and update VAWA. The measure the legislation faces a tenuous path in the Republican-controlled Senate, because of National Rifle Association opposition.
The NRA objects to language that expands the category of people who can be barred from possessing a gun due to domestic violence or stalking convictions. One section seeks to close the “boyfriend loophole” to apply the ban not only to live in-partners and spouses, but also past or present “dating partners” convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse. Conservatives also object to House provisions that would require women’s shelters accept transgender women and allow U.S. citizens to be tried in tribal courts for crimes committed on Native American land. Ernst says she and Feinstein are drafting “a bipartisan bill that will not only reauthorize but modernize VAWA in order to provide protections that best fit the needs of our victims and our communities. Supporters of the House legislation say the additional measures are necessary to address gaps in existing law and the realities of dating violence. “The reason why the stalking provision is in there is because in so many cases stalking does lead to future acts of violence,” said Robyn Thomas of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.