House OKs ERA bill, Violence Against Women Act in Women’s History Month

The House reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act during Women’s History Month. (Photo by Güldem Üstün/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON — With Women’s History Month as a backdrop, the House last week voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and remove the 1982 deadline for states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.

House Democratic women dressed in suffragette white to commemorate the occasion and to usher through what they called landmark legislation to advance women’s rights.

But both bills still need approval from the evenly divided Senate, where they could face significant obstacles.

The House voted 244-172 on Wednesday to pass the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, with 29 Republicans, including Oklahoma GOP House members Stephanie Bice, Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin, joining Democrats in support of the bill. No Arizona Republicans voted for the measure.

“While there are many misguided provisions that do not belong in the reauthorization legislation passed by the House, I am very supportive of the areas concerning Native American tribes and their ability to combat and end violence against women and children in their own communities,” said Cole, who is a member of the Chickasaw Nation, in a press release.

The reauthorization includes new language expanding protections for Native American, immigrant and transgender women.

“With passage of HR 1620, the House has recognized that Native victims of sexual violence, child abuse, stalking, and trafficking deserve the same protections that Congress afforded to domestic violence victims in VAWA 2013,” said Juana Majel-Dixon, a co-chair of the National Congress of American Indians Task Force on Violence Against Women.

“This is about our right, as governments, to protect our citizens from violence,” said Majel-Dixon, who is also a traditional councilwoman of the Pauma Band of Mission Indians.

The reauthorization comes six months after the signing of two laws designed to improve coordination between law enforcement agencies to combat the rising tide of missing, murdered and kidnapped Native Americans, something that has not happened before. More importantly it brings Indigenous people into the process.

The Violence Against Women Act was last reauthorized by Congress in 2013 and was originally passed in 1994. Then-Sen. Joe Biden authored the original bill. The act provides funding and protection to help women suffering from domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

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The White House released a statement Wednesday applauding the House’s passage of the bill.

“Writing and passing VAWA is one of the legislative accomplishments of which I’m most proud,” Biden said in the statement. “VAWA has transformed the way our country responds to violence against women. And, with each re-authorization, the Congress has expanded VAWA’s provisions on a bipartisan basis to improve protections, including for Native American women and survivors from underserved communities, and improve efforts to prevent intimate partner violence.”

But the bill’s opponents said the measure would go too far beyond the original intent of protecting women.

“Unfortunately, the bill that we voted on yesterday included numerous partisan poison pills that have nothing to do with the goal of protecting women from domestic violence,” Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., said in a statement.

New provisions in the bill include closing the “boyfriend loop,” meaning all dating partners convicted of domestic violence will be prohibited from owning guns, rather than just spouses, parents, legal guardians or partners who live together. That ban also extends to those convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse or stalking, prompting the National Rifle Association to oppose the bill when it was introduced in the last session of Congress.

Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for the NRA, told the New York Times in 2019 that for “many of those ‘offenses’ — and I’m using air quotes here — the behavior that would qualify as a stalking offense is often not violent or threatening; it involves no personal contact whatsoever.” She argued that the provision is “too broad and ripe for abuse.”

The House also voted 222-204 Wednesday to remove the deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, an amendment to the Constitution proposed in 1972. The original bill required three-fourths of states to ratify the ERA by 1979, later changed to 1982, before it could be added to the Constitution. Only 35 of the needed 38 states ratified it by the deadline.

The ERA would ban sex-based discrimination and strengthen legal equality for women in the Constitution.

All five Arizona Democrats in the House voted for the deadline extension. No Arizona Republicans and none of Oklahoma’s House members voted for it. At a House Rules Committee hearing Tuesday, Cole said the bill is unconstitutional.

“But now, 42 years after the deadline has passed, the majority is trying to turn back the clock and claim that there should be no deadline at all for ratification of the amendment,” Cole said.

Gaylord News is a Washington-based reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Cronkite News has partnered with OU to expand coverage of Indigenous communities.