Senator Dean Heller Addresses the L’il Women

Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) is delighted to inform Nevada women that he is a co-sponsor of the bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, but no sooner does he make this announcement than he weasels away.  Here’s his original statement, comment points inserted:

“Nevada’s struggling economy has limited state resources to help those who are affected by domestic violence.  (1) This measure will provide greater certainty for organizations that work hard every day to prevent and address domestic violence.  Moreover, this legislation also repeals duplicative provisions creating a more efficient and effective program.  While not perfect, I am pleased the Senate is proceeding with this bill and trust it will further the important goal of reducing violence in all its forms.

“This is the type of legislation that should be brought to the floor in a bipartisan manner, not used as a political wedge. (2) The fact that some in Congress are more interested in playing games than solving problems goes to the heart of what is wrong with Washington.  Let’s start solving our nation’s most pressing issues and pass this important legislation immediately,” said Senator Dean Heller. “

(1)  It’s so nice we can always blame the “struggling economy” for funding shortages, and Heaven Forefend we should discuss increasing revenues via a less regressive and more progressive taxation system in Nevada which might alleviate some of the funding shortfalls in social welfare programs. Unfortunately, some of the funding cuts came before the “struggling economy” in late 2008.

On July 3, 2007  KOLO reported that the source of income for sustaining programs to protect women was “off” — “State funding for organizations like Washoe County’s Committee to Aid Abused Women comes from a chunk of marriage license fees. But the sale of marriage licenses is down. It’s been declining for decades in Washoe County and last year the number also fell in Clark County. The state department of Health and Human Resources had little choice but to cut funding, but the short notice gave the organizations little chance to seek relief elsewhere. Less money means cuts.”   Shorter version:  Since the state never really made a significant financial commitment to support women’s safety programs from the General Fund, it was up to the gimmick of shaving from marriage license fees to sustain the programs.  License sales went down, so did the funding.

Nevada’s STOP program relies on funding from VAWA sources.  [NVAG] There’s been a questionable contrast between Money and Mouth in this realm as well. How did the Bush Administration and Congress support family violence prevention and mitigation programs in 2008?  Not. So. Well.  The FY2008 federal budget slashed $35 million from the VOCA fund which supports victims of violent crime, $2.1 million was cut from Legal Aid services often used by low income women, and $2.2 million was cut from funding for Family Violence Prevention programs.  [NNEDV pdf]  It isn’t as though these programs were fully funded from the beginning.

The 1994 Act called for expenditures of $1.6 billion over a six year period, which was presumed to cover some 97.1 households in the United States [Census] or some 248,709,873 persons. [Census] which works out to about $267 million per year.   Allocations from 2001 to 2005 totaled $3.3 billion and the 2005 authorization (2007-2011) for federal funding came to a total of $3.935 billion. [VAWA pdf] Factoring in population growth and inflation leaves the 2007-2011 appropriations looking rather like a faltering step back in terms of total federal funding for the VAWA programs.

One clue that funding levels have been inadequate in a state program is when the very first priority of a program’s mission statement is to “maintain the current level of service.” [NV STOP plan pdf] We could also figure this out from the fact that Clark County with about 76% of the state’s population has only 3 sexual assault nurse examiners who are perform from 30 to 90 examinations per month, in addition to their other assigned duties.  This in a state in which approximately 770,000 persons have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking, and 240,000 sustained injuries requiring medical attention.  [NISVS pdf]

The level of funding also appears to be far less than adequate to address another dismal performance by Nevada in national rankings:

“According to a study released by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) in September 2011, Nevada ranked first in the nation in the rate of women killed by men for the second year in a row with a rate of 2.70 per 100,000. This rate was more than double the national average. Nevada has held the top position for four of the last five years.”  [NISVS pdf](emphasis added)

So, if we are speaking of domestic violence in a state with a bottom of the barrel ranking, what could prevent Senator Heller from issuing a full throated ringing endorsement of the re-authorization of VAWA funding? What are those “wedges” about which Senator Heller is complaining?

(2) There are three issues which Congressional Republicans have with the current VAWA reauthorization.

First, the revised authorization would expand the programs into more rural and Tribal areas, “The legislation would continue existing grant programs to local law enforcement and battered women shelters, but would expand efforts to reach Indian tribes and rural areas.”  [NYT] There is a reason for this:

“Native American women experience the highest rate of violence of any group in the United States. A report released by the Department of Justice, American Indians and Crime, found that Native American women suffer violent crime at a rate three and a half times greater than the national average. National researchers estimate that this number is actually much higher than has been captured by statistics; according to the Department of Justice over 70% of sexual assaults are never reported.” [NOW]

What might be the problem that would cause Senator Heller to have qualms about expanding the VAWA programs to Native American women, who are currently experiencing a rate of violence 3 1/2 times higher than the national average?  Could it be that since most of the violence against Native American women is perpetrated by men, and some of the men are white, that white men do not wish to be subjected to the jurisdiction of Tribal Courts?

Second, the reauthorization calls for more funding for free legal assistance for victims.  “It would increase the availability of free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, extend the definition of violence against women to include stalking, and provide training for civil and criminal court personnel to deal with families with a history of violence.”  [NYT]

Free legal assistance appears to be taboo to Republican members of Congress.  The Reagan era saw a full blown attempt to eliminate the Legal Services Corporation, a non-profit legal aid service for low income Americans.   George H.W. Bush stopped the onslaught, and the Clinton Administration restored funding but with limitations on the kinds of cases the LSC could take.  During the Administration of George W. Bush the LSC could only handle about 20% of the legal needs of low income Americans.  More recently, Congressional Republicans have called for a $75 million reduction in the FY 2011 appropriations for the LSC.  The LSC has faced continual opposition from Republicans who often cite it as an example of “waste, fraud, and abuse.”   The pattern of opposing the funding of legal aid services to low income people continues in current GOP opposition to the reauthorization of the VAWA.

Its hard to imagine why Republican members of the 112th Congress, such as Senator Heller, would be opposed to extending the definition of violence to include stalking, since 1 out of 12 women and 1 out of 45 men will be “stalked” by someone if current statistical trends hold. [DVRC]

Third, we come to some of the Republican Party’s favorite wedge issues.  “It would also allow more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas, and would include same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence.” [NYT] The contemporary enthusiasm amongst the GOP for immigrant bashing ought to be constrained by the interest of law enforcement to encourage the reporting of domestic violence, and to have the victim be in the country in order to testify against his or her alleged attacker.  A murder is a murder, and a rape is a rape regardless if the victim is residing in this country legally or not.   Republicans might want to consider the hypothetical in which a rapist or murderer, residing illegally in this country, is more difficult to catch because members of ethnic minority communities are reluctant to offer evidence or testimony out of fear they will be the ones deported.

It doesn’t make any more common sense to get hung up on homophobia either.  A murder is a murder, and a rape is a rape — gender or sexual orientation isn’t a consideration in the law.  The willful killing of one human being by another is a murder, which doesn’t depend on whether the attacker or the victim is straight, gay, a legal resident, or not.  Likewise, domestic violence in all its forms is a scourge. Period.  That homophobic Republicans might be “uncomfortable” discussing a domestic violence situation in a non-traditional setting is irrelevant.  As far as the local law enforcement personnel and local social support agencies are concerned it’s still domestic violence.   Alternative definitions are a radical departure from American jurisprudence.

Removing undocumented workers, tourists who have overstayed their visas, or members of the LGBT community from the realm of statutes pertaining to domestic violence would be tantamount to saying, “If the victim is a member of any of these excluded groups, then those individuals are not eligible for the same consideration which we would give members of any other group.” If they are not eligible for the same consideration under the law, then we have two standards of justice instead of one, and the second is definitely substandard.  This would be a radical re-interpretation of our entire judicial framework.

Yet by saying, “This is the type of legislation that should be brought to the floor in a bipartisan manner, not used as a political wedge,” Senator Heller gives every appearance of stating that he cannot support the reauthorization of the VAWA if it incorporates justice for Native American women in tribal courts, subsidized legal assistance for low income Americans who are the victims of domestic violence, or maintains a single standard of justice in American courts.

S. 1925 should come to the Senate floor very soon.  We’ll see if Senator Heller has “wedged” himself into an untenable  corner.

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Filed under 2012 election, gay issues, Heller, Native Americans, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

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