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U.S. Opinions: Los Angeles

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Voting for women and against domestic violence

Congress extends protection to a broader group of victims

The following editorial appeared Friday in the Los Angeles Times:

After more than a year of bitter partisan fighting, Congress on Thursday finally reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, including new provisions that will extend the law’s protections for gay, lesbian, transgender and Native American victims of domestic violence. It’s about time.

There is no rational explanation for why lawmakers took so long to reauthorize this legislation, which was first enacted in 1994 and had been renewed twice with broad bipartisan support. Admittedly, the revised law covers a broader group of victims.

That was apparently too much for some Republicans in the House, who sought to substitute a weaker bill for the one passed by the Senate, arguing that the new protections either went too far or were prone to fraud.

What the newly reauthorized legislation will actually do is provide help to all victims of domestic violence, regardless of their sexual orientation, immigration status or where the assault took place. It will, for example, expand the authority of tribal courts over non-Native American men who commit assault or rape on reservations.

That’s important because Native American women are 2 1 / 2 times more likely to be raped than those in the general population, yet if they are assaulted on Indian land by a non-Native American, their only recourse is to plead their case to overworked federal prosecutors, who often allow such allegations to fall through the cracks.

The expanded act will provide protections to same-sex couples. It will preserve the protection given to undocumented women, by allowing them to apply for a special permit, known as a U visa, which provides temporary legal status to victims who help police investigate crimes. And it will toughen penalties for sex trafficking.

Whether House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, was persuaded to relent and bring the bill to the floor as part of a political strategy to improve the GOP’s tarnished image with women voters, or because he actually came to believe that the good in the bill outweighed the bad, isn’t important.

In the end, what matters is that the House, for at least a moment, overcame its partisan dysfunction. And that victims of domestic violence and abuse will once again be protected by the law.

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