WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. House approved reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which protects same-sex couples, sending it to President Obama Thursday.
The measure, which has already cleared the Senate, passed the House on a 286-138 vote, with 87 Republicans joining 199 Democrats, The Washington Post reported.
Obama said he was pleased with the House vote.
"I was pleased to see the House of Representatives come together and vote to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act," he said in a statement. "Today's vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community."
In thanking leaders of both parties for getting the reauthorization passed, Obama said, "Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk."
The bill also authorized the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which would provide "critical support for both international and domestic victims of trafficking and helping ensure traffickers are brought to justice," the president said.
Once Obama signs the bill into law, it will authorize up to $660 million each year for the next five years for programs that help with victim assistance and in the prosecution of sexual assault and domestic abuse. The funding amount is a 17 percent decrease from 2005, the last time the VAWA was reauthorized.
Vice President Joe Biden, who sponsored the original Violence Against Women Act, praised the vote noting that Congress "put politics aside."
Since the act was passed in 1994, there has been a 64 percent reduction in domestic violence, Biden said.
"The urgent need for this bill cannot be more obvious," he said.
The legislation, which languished in the House, includes new provisions that would bar discrimination against gays and lesbians in programs funded by the bill and would expand the authority of tribal courts to prosecute non-native American men accused of crimes on Indian reservations.
Many House Republicans say they believed the expanded authority for tribal courts was unconstitutional. Other Republicans opposed the VAWA in toto, saying they believed it improperly enmeshed the federal government in programs they thought were better left to state and local governments.
Before voting on the Senate-passed version of the VAWA, the House defeated, 166-257, a bill offered by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., that didn't include language about same-sex couples and attempted to strike a compromise on the issue of tribal courts, the Post said.
"There is absolutely no reason that it should have taken this long for the House leadership to come around on a bill that had overwhelming bipartisan support," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a leading proponent for the bill. "But passage today is a validation of what we've been saying since this bill expired in 2011 -- VAWA has never been, and should never be, a partisan bill."
She praised "moderate Republican voices in the House who stood up to their leadership to demand a vote on the Senate bill."
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