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Domestic violence bill passes Senate: Is GOP chastened by Election 2012?

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The 2013 law differs from its 2012 version in three key ways that may help its passage.

Gone is an expansion of visas for victims of violent crime that Republicans derided as a backdoor “amnesty” program. Added are two provisions with strong Republican support: one that provides for expedited reviews of untested rape kits and another that reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which aims at helping victims of human trafficking by strengthening coordination between law enforcement agencies and upping penalties for convicted traffickers.

Another sticking point from last year – expanding protections to include the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community – is no longer seen as a deal-breaker. The major hurdle that remains is a provision that allows native Americans to bring charges against their attackers in Indian tribal courts.

Supporters of this provision argue that the problem is pressing – about 3 in 5 native American women are subject to abuse during their lifetime – and that authorities often struggle to prosecute such cases under existing laws and resources. In essence, allowing tribal courts to hear such charges patches a gap, the bill’s advocates say, that allows abuse to go unpunished if it occurs on an Indian reservation.

But conservatives see the legislation as constitutionally problematic because it would, in their eyes, deprive non-native American defendants of rights to due process and trial by a jury of their peers.

In 2012, both chambers of Congress passed VAWA reauthorization bills. The Senate passed the measure, 68 to 31, while the House approved the bill in a narrower, more partisan vote of 222 to 205. The bill was left unenacted after the House cited procedural problems and stalled moving the measure into a committee that would iron out differences between the two bills.

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