By BRIAN TUMULTY
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - House Republican leaders are working to protect anti-domestic violence legislation from falling victim to the same gridlock that prevented an agreement on the issue last year.
Their efforts come as the Senate is poised to pass an updated version the Violence Against Women Act on Thursday by a sizable bipartisan majority.
The 1994 federal law has been expanded twice, but last year's effort to add Native Americans, illegal immigrants and members of the LGBT community fell short of passage.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Wednesday he's been meeting with other lawmakers daily to resolve an impasse over how to deal with domestic abuse on tribal lands.
"We want to protect the women who are subject to abuse on tribal lands, and unfortunately there are issues that don't directly bear on that that have come up that have complicated it,'' Cantor said during an exchange with House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. on the House floor.
"We must move and act on this bill,'' Cantor said. He also said he's been in touch with Vice President Joe Biden "about trying to assist and bring the parties together.''
Hoyer accepted Cantor's explanation and expressed hope an agreement can be reached.
The Senate voted 68-31 last April to add the three new groups to the Violence Against Women Act, but the version that passed the Republican-controlled House in May omitted them. The differences weren't reconciled before the last Congress ended its term.
A slightly modified version of last year's bill has 60 cosponsors in the Senate, including Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine and Mike Crapo of Idaho.
In crafting this year's version, lawmakers stripped a provision that aimed to increase the number of U visas offering temporary legal status and work eligibility to immigrants who are victims of certain crimes.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, has said he intends to propose an increase in U visas as part of immigration reform legislation.
Under the new proposal to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, the current cap on the visas would remain intact, but advocacy groups could offer them to victims whose abusers used the threat of deportation as a means to control them.
The Senate voted 85-8 on Monday to avoid a filibuster on the reauthorization.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., predicted an overwhelming majority vote in the Senate to approve the bill would pressure the House to act quickly.
"This is a very successful law,'' he said. "There's no doubt it has worked.''
The bill's biggest challenge is opposition among some House Republicans to a provision that would let tribal courts prosecute alleged domestic abusers who are not Native Americans. The Senate bill would allow that in cases in which the victim is a Native American living on tribal lands.
Cantor promised Wednesday to handle the impasse in "an expeditious manner.''
The issue of domestic abuse on tribal lands is a bigger issue in Western states than in New York, although it is pervasive on and off tribal lands, Schumer said.
The New York Division of Criminal Justice Services said 43,782 domestic abuse incidents were reported to police agencies in upstate New York in 2011, according to Schumer.
Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of Monroe County issued a statement Wednesday urging House GOP leaders to follow the Senate's example by quickly passing the bill.
"Americans know that stopping domestic violence is too important to fall victim to partisan gamesmanship, and the Senate's overwhelming bipartisan support reflects this," Slaughter said. "This has been held up for far too long, and the House majority needs to follow the Senate's lead and extend these vital protections without delay."