House Republicans are taking up where Senate Republicans failed (or gave up) in trying to prevent the Violence Against Women Act from including or expanding protections for undocumented immigrants, LGBT people, and Native Americans. In addition to excluding those groups of victims, the House Republican bill, sponsored by Rep. Sandy Adams of Florida, would introduce mandatory minimum sentencing for some sexual assaults.
Research shows that mandatory minimum sentences in general disproportionately affect black men (as compared with white men); there are also concerns about mandatory minimums specific to sexual assault:
Senate Democrats say mandatory minimum sentences “can have a chilling effect on the reporting and prosecution of crime, particularly domestic and sexual violence offenses that involve offenders closer to the victim,” a staff analysis of the Senate bill (S 1925) found.
Given this and opposition to inclusion of mandatory minimum sentences in the Violence Against Women Act from dozens of groups such as the NAACP and the ACLU, their inclusion in the Republican version of the bill may be intended as a poison pill, which Republicans will seize on to say that Democrats don’t want to punish sexual offenders. Republicans are also foregrounding women as sponsors of their version of the bill, clearly hoping to pinkwash their attempts to weaken VAWA.
The House Judiciary Committee will mark up the bill when recess ends, and it is expected to go to the full House the week of May 14. Once the House has passed its version, the real fun begins as the House and Senate have to reconcile their very different bills.
Tell your representatives to pass the expanded, bipartisan Senate reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, not the Republican House version that would exclude Native Americans, LGBT people, and undocumented immigrants and introduce problematic mandatory minimum sentences to sexual assault.