WASHINGTON - The House approved a sweeping anti-crime bill Friday that includes more than $3 billion to fight violence against women and seeks to protect foreign women brought into the country by the international illegal sex trade.
The catchall legislation also has provisions that would make it easier for victims to collect compensation from terrorist states and would force states to pay costs when a criminal is released from prison and commits a crime in another state.
It passed 371-1 and is expected to be approved by the Senate early next week.
Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act has been a top priority of the Clinton administration, which estimates violence against women has decreased 21 percent since the law was first passed in 1994.
The bill more than doubles funding allowed in the previous act, which expired with the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1. It provides nearly $1 billion over five years to help prosecutors track down domestic abusers, $875 million to expand shelters for battered women and $140 million for grants to stop violent crimes against women on college campuses.
The act "has been and must remain a powerful tool in the fight against domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., noting that domestic violence is the No. 1 health risk for women between the ages of 15 and 44.
The measure is also expanded to include programs to prevent dating violence. With that inclusion, said Rep. Constance Morella, R-Md., a chief sponsor, "I hope we can begin to recognize that young women are falling prey to violent relationships in their earliest dating experiences."
The sex trafficking legislation, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., provides $95 million over two years to combat trafficking in women and children, what has become the third largest source of income for international organized crime after drugs and guns. More than 1 million women and children are victims of trafficking every year, with an estimated 50,000 entering the United States.
The legislation, said Smith, "throws the book at those who would commit these heinous crimes and would make money off of the exploitation of women and children."
The measure increases the punishment, up to life imprisonment, for those convicted of running trafficking operations, authorizes grants for rehabilitation and shelter programs for victims, gives relief from deportation for victims facing retribution if they returned home, helps foreign governments trying to stop sex trade activities and sets up a process for cutting off non-humanitarian aid to governments that tolerate or condone trafficking.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., author of the Senate bill with Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., said it would be "a model piece of legislation around the world, to begin to deal with some of the darker parts of the global economy."
Also included in the package is a measure making it easier for terrorist victims to collect damages from nations that foster that terrorism.
American courts have awarded former hostages and families of terrorist victims multimillion-dollar judgments against Iran and Cuba, but the administration has so far blocked the freeing of frozen assets to those winning the suits.
There was a smattering of Democratic opposition to another measure under which a state would have to pay for the conviction and imprisonment of a repeat rapist, murderer or sexual offender who is released from prison and commits a crime in another state. Federal funds for the first state would be transferred to the second.
Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., said it would be "a wash between states passing money back and forth" and would have no discernible effect on the crime rate, but bill sponsor Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said states must be held accountable when they let out of prison people who are a threat to society.
The last major provision strengthens the ability of states to block interstate wine and other liquor sales, particularly over the Internet, by allowing state attorneys general to sue producers to stop shipments into states that prohibit imports.
The single no vote was cast by Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., a staunch fiscal conservative.
On the Net:
GOP synopsis: http://hillsource.house.gov/LegislativeDigest/FloorPrep/FPMain/fp100 600.htm
To search for bills: http://thomas.loc.gov
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