Pa.’s Fitzpatrick joins Pelosi, House Democrats in attempt to revive lapsed domestic violence protections

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WASHINGTON – Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick joined U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic women in the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday to unveil legislation that would re-authorize funding for programs and services relating to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District (WikiMedia Commons)

The legislation lapsed last month after Congress failed to extend it. Republicans had sought to roll a “clean extension” into a major spending deal signed by President Donald Trump last month to keep the government operating and avert a second shutdown. But Democrats rejected that effort in the hopes of enacting more sweeping legislation outside the confines of the shutdown debate.

Fitzpatrick, who represents the Bucks County-based 1st District, introduced legislation to reauthorize the bill (known as the Violence Against Women Act, VAWA) — with Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California.

“While there is still considerable work to be done, VAWA has drastically improved our nation’s response to safeguarding women from abuse and anguish,” Fitzpatrick said at a press conference in the U.S. Capitol Building Thursday – the eve of International Women’s Day. “Congress,” he added, “has historically reauthorized VAWA with broad bipartisan agreement.”

Michigan Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell and other House Democrats echoed the sentiment.

“There’s no reason a survivor should face hurdles when trying to connect to services they need to recover,” she said at the conference. “It’s going to be hard work,” she added in a statement, “but we need to update and extend VAWA.”

The bill is expected to come up for debate in the House this spring.

Last reauthorized in 2013, the bill was set to expire on Sept. 30, 2018. Fitzpatrick and two Republicans from New York introduced legislation to extend the bill through the end of March.

“This is not a partisan issue,” he and his colleagues wrote in a letter to the Republican leaders who controlled the U.S. House at the time. That legislation did not pass; instead Congress cleared several short-term patches.

First enacted in 1994, VAWA funds programs and services that aim to prevent violence, support crime victims, and change public attitudes about violence against women. The law was reauthorized in 2000, 2005 and in 2013 — six years ago this month.

The legislation introduced Thursday would expand housing options for survivors and training programs for school-based health centers.

It includes a provision sponsored by Fitzpatrick that would stiffen penalties for cyberstalking, educate youth on violence prevention and support children exposed to violence.

And it includes two provisions written by Dingell, one of which would make it more difficult for perpetrators of dating violence and stalking to access guns and another that would provide greater access to behavioral health and safety resources.

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