Sen. Ben Cardin used a roundtable discussion in Prince George's County on Thursday to call on House Republicans to pass the Senate version of a bill that would reauthorize hundreds of millions of dollars of spending on domestic abuse shelters and violence prevention programs.
Both chambers of Congress have passed legislation to spend $660 million a year over five years to combat violence against women -- funding programs that have been reauthorized twice before with bipartisan support. But with an election looming, Republicans and Democrats are bickering over a handful of policy differences in the bills.
"The Violence Against Women Act has a proven track record of protecting women from domestic violence and it is hard to understand opposition to legislation with the goal of curbing domestic violence," Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement Thursday. "Saving women's lives should not be a partisan issue."
The Senate version, which 15 Republicans supported, would specifically extend domestic violence protections to gays and lesbians and would increase the availability of visas for illegal immigrants who are victims. The House bill, which was backed by six Democrats, leaves those provisions out.
Republicans argue that the Senate provisions are redundant and political.
"It is disappointing that the Senate has ... chosen to score political points on the backs of victims by inserting provisions that pit one group of victims against another," Rep. Sandy Adams, a Florida Republican and the lead sponsor of the House bill, said earlier this month.
In Maryland, there were more than 18,500 reported cases of domestic abuse and 38 fatalities in 2009, according to Cardin's office.
Cardin met with Prince George's County Sheriff Melvin High, Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks and several advocates Thursday, including the Baltimore-based House of Ruth.