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N.M. Groups Urge Pearce To Back VAWA

A coalition of women launched a petition drive Tuesday to pressure the sole Republican member of New Mexico’s congressional delegation to support proposed expanded protections under the Violence Against Women Act.

Both the House and Senate passed their own versions to extend and expand the act during the last session, but partisan wrangling and questions about the constitutionality of some provisions stalled any compromises on the reauthorization effort.

Even though the new session is barely under way, advocates are beginning their push in New Mexico and they’re targeting U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce.

The Republican, who represents southern New Mexico’s 2nd District, supported the House bill when it came up for a vote more than seven months ago, but he did not support the Senate version.

“It’s unacceptable that Senate leadership chose to play politics with women’s lives and safety for that entire time, rather than reauthorize this important law,” Pearce said in a statement issued to The Associated Press. “I’ve been meeting with New Mexico constituents on this issue, and they feel as I do, that this law is important and needs reauthorization. I call on the Senate to put politics aside and approve it now.”

The women’s groups gathered outside Republican Party headquarters in Albuquerque on Tuesday accused Pearce and other House Republicans of playing politics. They argued that the Senate version of the bill would better protect American Indian women as well as those in immigrant and gay and lesbian communities.

“I think the stumbling block is ideologues in the Republican Party and people like Steve Pearce need to decide whether their loyalty belongs to the people who elected them or to the far right,” said Martha Burk of the National Council of Women’s Organizations.

Burk said it’s not just about Pearce’s district, which is primarily a rural, conservative area.

“We want to hold the line because all citizens deserve protection,” she said.

Burk and the other advocates planned to send Pearce one purple ribbon for every person who signed the online petition. By late Thursday afternoon, 400 people from around the state added their names.

The battle over reauthorization of the act has been long and contentious.

Created to prevent domestic abuse and protect its victims, the 1994 act expired in 2011. The House in May narrowly passed its own version, but the Obama White House threatened a presidential veto, saying it didn’t go far enough to protect battered illegal immigrants, Native Americans or gays. The Democratic-led Senate extended new protections to those minority groups.

In New Mexico, where some 20,000 domestic violence incidents are reported each year, advocates are hopeful Congress will be able to settle the questions regarding constitutionality and still clear the way for expanded protections.

Daniel Manzano, policy director for the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the state stands to benefit given its high populations of Native and immigrant women.

“The 113th Congress, they’re the most diverse Congress elected in a long time. Hopefully they’ll understand how important this is,” he said.

While New Mexico only gets around $1 million for domestic violence programs and services through VAWA, Manzano said the language of the act is more important.

“It’s the only place where it’s federally recognized that committing acts of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking are crimes,” he said.