Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., was joined by three Oregon district attorneys Thursday in calling for quick passage of the Violence Against Women Act. Last year, the Senate passed a bipartisan renewal of the bill, but the House did not take it up.

"Today, I heard directly from Oregon prosecutors about the real difference the Violence Against Women Act makes on the ground,” said Merkley.  “It is unacceptable that the House has let this law lapse.

"Survivors and victims of domestic violence are counting on us to act, and this should not be a partisan political issue.  The Senate is expected to hold the final vote on Monday.  Then it will be time for the House to step up to the plate.”

Since its inception in 1994, VAWA has been a very effective program at combating domestic violence, and the rate of domestic violence between intimate partners has dropped more than 50 percent.

The bill that the Senate is working on not only extends but expands this successful program. The bill includes a few key expansions on current law:

  • Civil Rights Protection – The bill includes measures to make sure that LGBT men and women cannot be turned away from domestic violence shelters.
  • Violence Against Native Women – This reauthorization bill addresses the crisis of violence against women in tribal communities, who face rates of domestic violence and sexual assault much higher than those faced by the general population. Currently, tribes do not have criminal jurisdiction over a non-Indian who is responsible for domestic violence against a tribal member, even if the perpetrator lives on the reservation and is married to a tribal member.
  • Homicide Reduction – The bill provides tools and encourages best practices, which have been proven to be effective, to prevent domestic violence homicides by training law enforcement, victim service providers, and court personnel to identify and connect high-risk victims to crisis intervention services.

“VAWA continues to be an essential component of violence prevention services here in Multnomah County,” said Rod Underhill, Multnomah County district attorney. “VAWA funding, for example, allows for the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office to dedicate a prosecutor to help provide vital services to victims in underserved communities many of whom face tragic forms of domestic violence and sexual abuse.”

“The Domestic Assault Response Team (DART) here in Clatsop County helps victims find shelter and services, and I’ve seen the impact they have on women’s lives,” said Josh Marquis, Clatsop County District Attorney. “Without VAWA being reauthorized, programs like DART will cease to exist.”

In 2011, during one 24-hour period that was analyzed, over 1,600 Oregon victims were served by domestic violence services. This included emergency shelter, children’s support, transitional housing, support for teen victims of dating violence, therapy or counseling for children and advocacy related to cyberstalking.

Additionally, during that same 24-hour period, Oregon domestic violence programs answered more than 27 hotline calls every hour.  

On another topic, Merkley announced he has been awarded the chairmanship of a subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee, the Subcommittee on Economic Policy.

 This subcommittee has jurisdiction over issues related to economic growth, employment and price stability, as well as monetary policy and small business lending.

It also has oversight of the new Financial Stability Oversight Council, an important new coordinating body charged by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act with advancing financial sector reforms.

“We need an economy that creates opportunities and good jobs for everyone who’s willing to work hard,” Merkley said. “Too many Oregonians are still out of work, and too many who work are scrimping and scraping just to tread water.  I look forward to using my new role as subcommittee chairman to push for pro-growth policies that give working families and small businesses across Oregon the chance to get ahead.”                                                                                                                                   

Other issues the subcommittee has jurisdiction over are money and credit, including currency, coinage and notes; prices of commodities, rents and services; economic stabilization; financial aid to commerce and industry; loan guarantees; flood insurance; and disaster assistance.