Friday, April 27, 2012

Ron Johnson's Crass Vote Aginst the Violence Against Women Act

Yesterday the Senate passed an extension of the Violence Against Women Act. Ron Johnson voted against the extension and here's his explanation as to why:
“I believe it’s critical to ensure that laws are in place to prevent and deter crime – against both women and men. Regrettably, the debate over the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act was completely politicized by the Senate Democratic leadership.

“Republicans offered very reasonable alternatives to extend the Violence Against Women Act. Senate Democrats today defeated proposals to provide U.S. Marshalls the tools they need to track sex offenders across state lines. They voted against legislation to establish an interstate database for DNA evidence, to ensure sex offenders are brought to justice regardless or the jurisdiction in which they commit their crimes. And they rejected legislation to provide additional funds to allow law enforcement to pursue justice for hundreds of thousands of women – women whose cases may depend on the results of DNA tests from rape evidence kits currently caught in a backlog that stretches to the hundreds of thousands.

“The partisan bill pushed through by Senate Democrats today does nothing to address these.”
The vote and was anything but partisan and passed 68-31. That's 15 Republicans voting in favor of the extension.

It's very tempting to dismiss the omissions from the bill Johnson cites above as being little more than rhetoric to cover his vote against what should be a no-brainer. Each of the provisions Johnson notes above cost money and are expansions of the federal government, so at least according to one of the guiding principles of his governing philosophy, Johnson appears to be contradicting himself.

What's more likely is that Johnson voted against the bill for the same reasons every other Republican who voted against it did:
But other Republicans objected to a number of the measure’s new provisions. One would add language barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in programs funded through the measure.

Another would let law enforcement issue up to 5,000 more visas each year to battered illegal immigrants who agree to participate in the prosecution of serious crimes. The 2000 update of the bill set aside 10,000 visas annually for that purpose, which advocates believe encourages victims to report crime. All 10,000 are being issued each year, and advocates say more are needed.

A final area of contention would provide the government new authority to prosecute non-Indian men who abuse Indian women on tribal reservations.
It's this last area that is of particular relevance to Wisconsin. Wisconsin has one of the largest Native populations in the country; by this measure it's #9 at about 41,000. The Domestic violence epidemic among Native Americans isn't a well-kept secret and it's further complicated by the byzantine nuances between the intersections of tribal, state and federal law:
There is an epidemic of domestic violence on Native American reservations. According to the National Congress of American Indians, a Native American rights advocacy group, about 40 percent of Native American women will face domestic violence. But more than half of Native American women are married to non-Native American men, which means that when cases of abuse arise, the local tribal authorities can do very little because they don't have jurisdiction over non-tribe members.

State and federal prosecutors have the authority to prosecute domestic violence on reservations, but for geographic and logistical reasons, it often goes unaddressed. "A federal prosecutor is not going to be able to expend the kind of energy on misdemeanors that local police officers would spend energy on," says Paulette Moore, vice president for public policy at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

As Mother Jones reported last year, local authorities' inability or unwillingness to deal with domestic violence cases in Native American communities has contributed to an underground industry of vigilantes for hire who take matters into their own hands. The current version of the Violence Against Women Act would allow tribal authorities to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence cases on Indian reservations, but Republicans are opposing it because they don't like the idea of Native American law applying to non-tribe members.

"For the first time, the Committee would extend tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians," Grassley said in his floor speech. "I do not believe the Committee has a good understanding of what the consequences would be of doing so." The bill contains language that affirms non-tribe members prosecuted receive the same due process protections they would be entitled to under the US Constitution.

The bill's supporters expressed confusion at Grassley's logic. "Suppose your sister was with you in Washington, DC, and her husband beat her up," Moore says, "but because he was from Virginia, Washington couldn't do anything about it."
This is a problem that disproportionately effects Wisconsin, but that doesn't seem to matter to Johnson whose only motivation for voting on bigger issues in the Senate seems to be spite.

Or maybe it's fear, which is usually a much stronger motivator. It frequently seems that Johnson only seeks to appease the core elements of his support, the revanchist wing of the conservative movement. because if he loses their support he has none. That's the corner Johnson's painted himself into and he's apparently so afraid of drawing their ire that he's willing to lay abused women on their alter. That's pretty discomforting.

To be sure, Johnson is not mistaken by believing that the vote on VAWA was politicized. Then again, the votes of every bill are politicized. This is politics, after all.

Luckily, should Johnson choose to run for re-election he will certainly hear about this vote.


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