Fe­in­stein reaches across aisle to re­vise anti-vi­o­lence bill

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY EMILY CADEI [email protected]­clatchydc.com

One sen­a­tor is a long­time foe of the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion. The other came to na­tional at­ten­tion with a cam­paign ad promis­ing to “un­load” on Oba­macare while fir­ing a hand­gun at a shoot­ing range. But a pop­u­lar law to pre­vent vi­o­lence against women now rides on whether Cal­i­for­nia Democrat Dianne Fe­in­stein and Iowa Repub­li­can Joni Ernst can find com­mon ground on gun rights and sev­eral other thorny so­cial is­sues.

The Vi­o­lence Against Women Act, or 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. First passed in 1994, the most re­cent ver­sion of the law ex­pired in Fe­bru­ary, al­though its pro­grams are funded through the end of the fis­cal year.

The Democrat-led House — with the sup­port of 33 Repub­li­cans — voted Thurs­day to pass leg­is­la­tion to ex­tend and up­date VAWA. But the leg­is­la­tion faces a ten­u­ous path in the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Se­nate, thanks in large part to the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion or NRA, the in­flu­en­tial lob­by­ing group for gun rights.

The group ob­jects, in par­tic­u­lar, to lan­guage in the bill that ex­pands the cat­e­gory of peo­ple who can be barred from pos­sess­ing a gun due to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence or stalk­ing con­vic­tions. One sec­tion, for ex­am­ple, seeks to close the so­called “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.

The NRA ar­gues the def­i­ni­tions are too broad and the le­gal bar is too low. Groups work­ing against do­mes­tic vi­o­lence say many crimes against women are pleaded down from a felony to a mis­de­meanor, which is why the bill sets the thresh­old at that lower cat­e­gory of crime.

Con­ser­va­tives also ob­ject to pro­vi­sions in the House bill 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.

In­stead, House Repub­li­cans have of­fered an ex­ten­sion of the ex­ist­ing VAWA law, with none of the dis­puted up­dates. And they and their al­lies have ac­cused Democrats of try­ing to force a vote on a new ver­sion of the leg­is­la­tion to make GOP law­mak­ers look bad.

“It’s a shame that Nancy Pelosi and anti-gun Democrats let the bill ex­pire just to ad­vance a po­lit­i­cal agenda,” NRA spokes­woman Jen­nifer Baker said. “We’re hope­ful that the Se­nate is able to reau­tho­rize a bill that doesn’t con­tain un­nec­es­sary gun con­trol pro­vi­sions.”

Ernst, how­ever, said in a Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing in March that she and Fe­in­stein want to come up with “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.”

Fe­in­stein re­it­er­ated that point Thurs­day, af­ter the House vote. “There are a num­ber of im­prove­ments in the House bill that I think should be in our ver­sion,” she said in a state­ment.

The sen­a­tors and their staff con­tinue to dis­cuss the bill, both of­fices con­firmed. An aide for Ernst even said the two Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee mem­bers were chat­ting about the mea­sure while rid­ing the Se­nate’s un­der­ground train to a vote just two days ago. Nei­ther of­fice would share de­tails of their dis­cus­sions, how­ever.

Se­nate Democrats, how­ever, are un­likely to yield on the in­clu­sion of some new gun re­stric­tions, par­tic­u­larly with Fe­in­stein, a vet­eran of decades of gun con­trol bat­tles, serv­ing as the party’s lead ne­go­tia­tor. If all the Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate vote for the bill, they will still need the sup­port of nine Democrats to over­come a fil­i­buster.

Sup­port­ers of the House leg­is­la­tion say the ad­di­tional mea­sures are nec­es­sary to ad­dress gaps in ex­ist­ing law and the re­al­i­ties of dat­ing vi­o­lence.

Key Repub­li­cans haven’t shut the door on in­clud­ing new gun-re­lated lan­guage.

Asked Thurs­day about clos­ing the “boyfriend loop­hole,” Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Lindsey Gra­ham, R-S.C., ac­knowl­edged that, “The fact that you’re not mar­ried doesn’t mean there’s not a threat. As a mat­ter of fact, a lot of these sit­u­a­tions in­volve peo­ple who are dat­ing.”

CAROLYN KASTER AP Photo

Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif., seen with Sen. Lindsey Gra­ham, R-S.C., is work­ing to make the Vi­o­lence Against Women Act palat­able for gun rights ad­vo­cates.

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