The Senate Judiciary Committee held a mark-up of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization today. The bill, which expires on September 30, passed out of committee, but an amendment was added that could prevent or delay its passage by the full Senate.
The amendment, introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), on behalf of Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), would create a national registry of DNA taken from any person who has been detained by the police, even if the person is not arrested or convicted. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) tried to include a secondary amendment to link the DNA index only to violent felonies, but it was defeated on a straight party-line vote.
Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), the primary sponsor of VAWA in the Senate, said that he feared the DNA amendment could cause a firestorm on the Senate floor that would delay passage of VAWA. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said that he feared it was a poison pill. Senator Leahy said that he is worried that whole classes of people, such as Latinos or Muslims, will be rounded up and their DNA will be recorded in the registry. Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) pledged to try to work out a compromise on the amendment before the bill reaches the floor, which is expected before the end of the month.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, and Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, attended the mark-up, as did many women, to show their support for passage of VAWA. Legal Momentum, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the Sheila Wellstone Institute have also been working extremely hard to pass the bill.