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Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 2006 Through 2009

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise today to express my appreciation to my colleagues for passing for the second time this session, the Violence Against Women Act of 2005. Once again the Senate has spoken loudly and clearly that domestic violence and sexual assault are serious, public crimes that must be addressed. Today's bill is a tremendous compromise measure that merges the comprehensive, Senate-passed Violence Against Women Act, S. 119, with the House of Representative's Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act bill, H.R. 3402. This merger followed hours of bipartisan, bicameral negotiations. Compromises and edits were made, and what emerges is a balanced bill that strikes the right balance between rejuvenating core programs, making targeted improvements, and responsibly expanding the Violence Against Women Act to reach the needs of America's families.

The enactment of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994 was the beginning of a historic commitment to women and children victimized by domestic violence and sexual assault. While not the single cause, this commitment has made our streets and homes safer. Since the Act's passage in 1994, domestic violence has dropped by almost 50 percent incidents of rape are down by 60 percent and the number of women killed by an abusive husband or boyfriend is down by 22 percent. Today, more than half of all rape victims are stepping forward to report the crime. And since we passed the Act in 1994, over a million women have found justice in our courtrooms and obtained domestic violence protection orders.

This is a dramatic change from a decade ago. Back then, violence in the household was treated as a ``family matter'' rather than a criminal justice issue. Because we took action, the criminal justice system is much better equipped to handle domestic violence, and it is treated for what it is--criminal. The goal of the legislation passed here today is to usher the Violence Against Women Act into the 21st century. With this bill we attempt to look beyond the immediate crisis and take steps to not only punish offenders, but to also help victims get their lives back on track, and prevent domestic violence and sexual assault from occurring in the first place.

The bill contains much to commend. To that end, I will ask unanimous consent to include at the close of my statement a thorough section-by-section summary of H.R. 3402, but in the meantime, I would like to highlight some of the bill's provisions.

Title I, the bill's backbone, focuses on the criminal justice system and includes provisions to: (1) renew and increase funding to over $400 million a year for existing, fundamental grant programs for law enforcement, lawyers, judges and advocates; (2) stiffen existing criminal penalties for repeat federal domestic violence offenders; and (3) appropriately update the criminal law on stalking to incorporate new surveillance technology like Global Positioning System, GPS.

Notably, our bill reauthorizes the Court Appointed Special Advocates, ``CASA,'' a nationwide volunteer program to help children in the judicial system. Children are doubly impacted by family violence--both as observers of, and recipients of abuse. Court Appointed Special Advocates fit uniquely into the mix of services for victims of violence. Judges overwhelmingly report that children and families are better served by the involvement of a CASA volunteer on their cases. I hope that my colleagues see fit to fully appropriate this effective program, and in the future, raise the program's authorization level.

The Violence Against Women Act has always included measures to help law enforcement and victim service providers reach underserved communities. Today's bill goes even further by creating a new, targeted culturally and linguistically specific service grant program. This provision is intended to ensure that the Act's resources reach racial and ethnic communities grappling with family violence and its enormous ramifications.

The Violence Against Women Act crafts a coordinated community response that seeks the participation of police, judges, prosecutors, and the host of entities who care for the victims. Title II helps victim service providers by: (1) creating a new, dedicated grant program for sexual assault victims that will strengthen rape crisis centers across the country; (2) reinvigorating programs to help older and disabled victims of domestic violence; (3) strengthening and expanding existing programs for rural victims and victims in underserved areas; and (4) removing a current cap on funding for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Sexual violence is a crime that affects children and adults across our country. Unfortunately, rape has been a crime shrouded in secrecy and shame. Sexual assault survivors can experience physical and emotional problems for years. Approximately 1,315 rape crisis centers across the country help victims of rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and incest rebuild their lives by providing a range of vital services to survivors. But unfortunately, many rape crisis centers are under funded and understaffed. They are constantly in a crisis mode, responding to the needs of all victims--male, female as well as children--and are incapable of undertaking large-scale prevention efforts in their communities.

In response to this overwhelming need, our bill will provide increased resources to serve sexual assault victims. It includes, for the first time, a dedicated Federal funding stream for sexual assault programs through the proposed Sexual Assault Services Program, SASA. SASA will fund direct services to victims, including general intervention and advocacy, accompaniment through the medical and criminal justice processes, support services, and related assistance.

Reports indicate that up to ten million children experience domestic violence in their homes each year. The age at which a female is at greatest risk for rape or sexual assault is 14. Two-thirds of all sexual assault victims reported to law enforcement are under 18, and national research suggests that 1 in 5 high-school girls is physically or sexually abused by a dating partner. Treating children who witness domestic violence, dealing effectively with violent teenage relationships and teaching prevention strategies to children are keys to ending the cycle of violence. This reauthorization takes bold steps to address the needs of young people by renewing successful programs and creating new programs to: (1) promote collaboration between domestic violence experts and child welfare agencies; and (2) enhance to $15 million a year grants to reduce violence against women on college campuses.

Critical prevention initiatives are contained in title IV, including programs supporting home visitations for families at risk, and initiatives that specifically engage men and boys in efforts to end domestic and sexual violence. We can no longer be satisfied with punishing abusers after the fact and trying to help a woman pull her life back together--we must end the violence before it ever starts. We must end it, not just mend it.

Violence against women is a health care issue of enormous proportions with one in three women expected to experience such violence at some point in their lives. It also has enormous health consequences for women and children, leading to serious injuries and disease, including substance abuse, chronic, serious pain and sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS. We know pregnant women are particularly at risk for violence with increased levels of abuse accounting for injuries to the mother and developing fetus. In fact, homicide is a leading cause of death for pregnant and recently pregnant women.

Consequently, doctors and nurses, like police officers on the beat, are often the first witnesses of the devastating aftermath of abuse. Unfortunately, most health care providers are not currently trained on how to screen for, identify, document and treat or refer for violence-related illnesses or injuries. That's why the new health care programs in the Act are so essential--they provide an opportunity to intervene much earlier in the cycle of violence, before it becomes life threatening, and they provide a chance to reach out to children who may be growing up in violent homes.

In some instances, women face the untenable choice of returning to their abuser or becoming homeless. Indeed, 44 percent of the nation's mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness. Efforts to ease the housing problems for battered women are contained in Title VI, including (1) $20 million grant programs to facilitate collaboration between domestic violence organizations and housing providers; (2) programs to combat family violence in public and assisted housing, including new requirements that domestic violence victims may not be evicted or cut off from voucher services because of the violence; and (3) enhancements to transitional housing resources.

In some instances, victims of domestic violence who apply for or reside in public and subsidized housing are evicted or turned away because of the violence against them. A scream for help, a shot being fired, or the sound of police sirens is cited as a ``disruptive sound'' justifying eviction. In a recent nationwide survey, local housing and domestic violence attorneys across the country reported over 500 documented cases where victims were evicted because of the domestic violence committed against them.

Sections 606 and 607 of the Act provide important protections in public housing and the Section 8 program for victims of domestic violence and stalking. These sections prohibit denial of housing assistance based on the individual's status as a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking. With certain exceptions, they also prohibit terminating a victim's tenancy or rental assistance because of the violence against him or her. When women know they may lose their homes if their housing provider learns about the violence, they will seek to keep the abuse secret at all costs and thus, will often be unable to take the steps necessary to keep themselves and their families safe.

While protecting victims against retaliation, Sections 606 and 607 permit public housing authorities and private landlords to evict or end voucher assistance to perpetrators of domestic violence. It also ensures that landlords and housing providers can effectively manage their properties and maintain important discretionary authority.

The Act allows landlords to bifurcate a lease to remove a perpetrator while maintaining a victim's tenancy and evict victims who commit other lease violations or if the tenancy creates an actual and imminent threat to the public safety. Further, the Act clarifies that landlords should not be held liable simply for complying with the statute. Sections 606 and 607 benefited greatly from the input by the national associations representing landlords and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, including the National Association of Realtors, the National Multi-Housing Council, and the National Leased Housing Association.

It may be useful if the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issues guidance or regulations to assist with the implementation of these sections. Certain nonprofit organizations and other government agencies that have expertise in domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking, or in housing law and policy, could provide valuable guidance to HUD in creating such guidance and regulations.

Title VII helps abused women maintain economic security by establishing a national resource center to provide information to employers and labor organizations so that they may effectively help their employees who are victims of domestic violence. I had hoped that provisions from Senator MURRAY's Security and Financial Empowerment Act, SAFE, would have remained in the bill. This amendment would provide some fundamental economic protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Just as the Family Medical Leave Act protects individuals caring for a sick loved one, the SAFE Act would allow domestic violence victims to take time off from work to appear in court cases and other judicial proceedings without jeopardizing their employment at a time they need it the most. It is my hope that the Senate will revisit this issue soon.

Immigrant women often face a difficult time escaping abuse because of immigration laws, language barriers, and social isolation. Title VIII of today's bill builds on the progress of VAWA 1994 and VAWA 2000 to remove obstacles hinder or prevent immigrants from fleeing domestic abuse and participating in prosecutions. Further, the bill expands VAWA relief to: (1) elder abuse victims who have been abused by adult U.S. citizen sons or daughters; and (2) victims of child abuse or incest who are less than 25 and would have qualified as child self-petitioners. It will allow adopted children who have been abused by an adoptive parent to obtain permanent residency without having to reside with the abusive parent for 2 years. In an important move to help battered immigrant women achieve desperately-needed economic stability, the bill permits employment authorization to battered women and abused spouses of certain nonimmigrants.

Title VIII enhances immigration protection for victims of trafficking by removing barriers that block some victims from accessing to T and U visas. Title VIII also facilitates the reunion of trafficking victims with their family members abroad who are in danger of retaliation from international traffickers, and will increase access to permanent residency for victims of severe forms of trafficking who are cooperating in trafficking prosecutions. Finally, title VIII will arm foreign fiancees with background information about their U.S. citizen fiance, and will educate foreign fiancees about U.S. domestic violence laws and resources.

In an effort to focus more closely on violence against Indian women, title IX creates a new tribal Deputy Director in the Office on Violence Against Women dedicated to coordinating Federal policy and tribal grants. It also authorizes the Office to pool funds available to tribes and tribal organizations in various VAWA programs. In addition, Title IX authorizes tribal governments to access and upload domestic violence and protection order data on criminal databases, as well as create tribal sex offender registries, and strengthens available criminal penalties.

No doubt, today's bill is comprehensive; it speaks to the many complexities presented by domestic violence and sexual assault. I am indebted to a whole host of groups who worked on this measure and/or voiced their support throughout the journey from introduction to passage, including the American Bar Association, the National Association of Attorneys General, the International Association of Forensic Nurses, the American Medical Association, the National Sheriffs Association, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Congress of American Indians, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the Family Violence Prevention Fund, Legal Momentum, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the National Center for Victims for Crime, the National District Attorneys Association, the National Council on Family and Juvenile Court Judges, the National Association of Chiefs of Police, and many others. I am grateful for the work each of you does each day to make our families safer and healthier.

The legislation being passed today also demonstrates Congress's commitment to the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, COPS. This program has been widely credited for helping to reduce crime rates over the past 10 years. It was deemed a ``miraculous success'' by Attorney General Ashcroft, and law enforcement experts from top to bottom, including Attorney General Gonzalez, police chiefs, and sheriffs, have all testified to its effectiveness at combating crime. While many politicians have argued this point, the Government Accountability Office conclusively established a statistical link between COPS hiring grants and crime reductions. We know that the COPS program works, and the legislation we are passing today recognizes this fact by re-authorizing the COPS program for the next 5 years at $1.05 billion per year.

In addition, this legislation also updates the COPS program grant making authority by providing more flexibility for local agencies in applying for assistance. It still includes many of the hallmarks that attributed to its success, such as reducing redtape by allowing local agencies to apply directly to the Federal Government for assistance, and providing grants on a three-year basis to facilitate long-term planning. The major improvement is that agencies will now be able to submit one application for its various funding needs, including hiring officers, purchase equipment, pay officers' overtime, and other programs that will increase the number of officers deployed in community oriented policing services. Originally, agencies had to make separate grant applications for the various purpose areas of the program. In addition, it allows the COPS program to award grants for officers hired to perform intelligence, anti-terror, or homeland security duties. Providing local agencies with this type of flexibility is a step forward.

While re-authorizing the COPS program is important, the next step is for the appropriators to fund the program at authorized levels. Back in the nineties, we invested roughly $2.1 billion for state and local law enforcement each year. We are safer today because of these investments. Over the past 5 years, we have adopted a wrong-headed approach of cutting funding for our state and local law enforcement partners. And, the recently passed Commerce, Justice, Science budget allocated less than $800 million for state and local law enforcement assistance, and it zeroed out the COPS hiring program. I agree with the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriffs Association that these cuts leave us more vulnerable to crime and terrorism. In this bill, the Congress demonstrated its support for the COPS program, but the real test will come when we make funding decisions in the future. For the safety and security of the American people, I will be fighting for the Congress to fully fund the COPS program at the newly authorized levels of $1.05 billion per year.

I have many partners here in the Senate and in the House of Representatives who have worked tirelessly on this bill. Chairman Sensenbrenner and Ranking Member Conyers were committed to reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, and spent countless hours working on a resolution. Our negotiations were model ones--I wish bicameral relations were always so easy.

Senator Reed and Senator Allard were very helpful on the act's housing provisions, and Senator Enzi helped craft some of the victim service providers. I appreciate their assistance and help to move this bill forward. With respect to the Native American provisions, Senator McCain and Senator Dorgan provided instrumental guidance.

Since 1990, Senator Hatch and I have worked together to end family violence in this country, so it is no great surprise that once again he worked side-by-side with us to craft today's bill. I am also deeply indebted to Senator Kennedy for his unwavering commitment to battered immigrant women and his work on the bill's immigration provisions. Senator Kennedy's staff, particularly Janice Kaguyutan, have been invaluable to this process. I also thank Senator Leahy who has long-supported the Violence Against Women Act and, in particular, has worked on the rural programs and transitional housing provisions. As Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Leahy has consistently pushed forward reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and his staff, chief counsel Bruce Cohen, Tara Magner, and Jessica Berry have worked hard for passage. My final appreciation is for my very good friend from Pennsylvania for his commitment and leadership on this bill. It is a pleasure to work with Chairman SPECTER, and his staff Brett Tolman, Lisa Owings, Joe Jacquot, Juria Jones and chief counsel Mike O'Neill. From day one, Chairman SPECTER has been one of this bill's biggest champion. Chairman SPECTER is the reason a bipartisan, bicameral compromise measure is being passed today and I thank him.

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