March 15, 2012 – 8:21 p.m.

Domestic Violence Bill Appears to Have Support for Senate Move, Backers Say

Senate Democrats say they have enough bipartisan support to debate a bill to renew an 18-year-old domestic violence law despite GOP opposition that it lacks sufficient accountability measures, provides temporary visas to some undocumented workers and grants new authority for tribal courts.

Amy Klobuchar, manager of the proposed reauthorization of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (PL 103-322), predicts there are more than 60 votes to overcome a possible cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the bill that Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could file as early as this week. “It’s looking good,” Klobuchar said.

But the Minnesota Democrat and her allies have only secured 59 votes to allow consideration of the bill, one short of the number needed. The measure has 59 supporters, but one of them, Republican Mark Steven Kirk of Illinois, has been recovering from a stroke and is not expected to vote.

Still, Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas confirmed in an interview March 15 that she would vote to limit debate on a motion to proceed to allow debate to begin. Hutchison and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., are the only two female senators who had not formally signed on as sponsors. Ayotte said she remains undecided whether she will back moves to take up the measure.

“There are some problems with it, but I want to try to fix them so that we can go forward on it,” Hutchison said.

Hutchison has voiced concern about a provision that would give tribal courts jurisdiction over cases and protective orders involving non-reservation residents. “There is an Indian reservation issue that our people are concerned would violate the Constitution for double jeopardy,” Hutchison said.

Democrats are framing the coming debate as the latest in a series of election year fights over women’s issues, including abortion and contraception, while Republicans say they want to delete or modify contentious provisions without opposing the bill’s main goals.

Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on Judiciary, said he’s likely to offer a GOP alternative to the bill as an amendment when it comes to the floor. He said it was unclear whether other Republicans may propose their own amendments aimed at modifying or deleting specific provisions.

Two senior Democratic aides said Reid probably will move to take up the bipartisan reauthorization (S 1925) after the Senate completes work on the House-passed small-business securities bill (HR 3606) expected sometime this week. Republicans have voiced opposition to the women’s violence bill and called for action on fiscal priorities, but they now appear to lack the votes to block the bill.

The measure would authorize federal spending to investigate cases of battered women in shelters.

Republicans want to restructure the Justice Department office that manages that funding and are challenging the expansion of tribal court authority and the provision that would give temporary visas to domestic violence victims who are undocumented workers.

Such disputes sparked heated debate over the measure in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved it on a party-line vote Feb. 7. Klobuchar has been working with a number of Republican allies such as Michael D. Crapo of Idaho to build support. “I think we’re going to get enough votes to get it done,” Crapo said.