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NAAG Issues for the 113th Congress

By Blair Tinkle, NAAG General Counsel and Congressional Liaison

Blair Tinkle, General Counsel to the Association and Congressional Liaison

NAAG took several policy positions on federal legislation that arose in the 112th Congress that will likely arise again in the new 113th Congress: Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) reauthorization, and support for continued funding of the Byrne Justice Assistance Program (Byrne JAG).

NAAG sent a sign-on letter to congressional leaders in January 2012 supporting the reauthorization of VAWA with signatures from 53 attorneys general. VAWA has provided critical support for victim services and has transformed the response to domestic violence at the local, state and federal level. The letter stated, “Reauthorizing VAWA will send a clear message that this country does not tolerate violence against women and show Congress’ commitment to reducing domestic violence, protecting women from sexual assault and securing justice for women.”

In April 2012 the U.S. Senate voted to reauthorize VAWA, legislation that expanded the Act to forbid agencies that receive funding under the law to discriminate against gays and lesbians, allow immigrants who are victims of domestic violence to seek legal status, and enable tribal authorities to prosecute cases on Indian reservations. In May 2012 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, not including the above provisions, which the White House threatened to veto. No resolution was reached before the 112th congressional session ended. VAWA was last reauthorized in 2005 and therefore the issue is expected to come up in the 113th Congress.

Similarly, in October 2011 and November 2012, NAAG sent sign-on letters to congressional leaders to fund and reauthorize the TVPA, letters that bore the signatures of 44 and 46 attorneys general respectively. The TVPA forms “the core of the Department of Justice’s efforts to prevent and prosecute human trafficking and protect the victims of trafficking and slavery,” the letters stated. The Act was last reauthorized in 2008 and in October 2011, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee passed the TVPA reauthorization, but a vote was never taken by the full Senate. There were several bills reauthorizing the TVPA in the House, but they too did not reach a floor vote and therefore renewed action in the 113th Congress is expected.

And, in March 2012, NAAG sent a letter signed by 45 attorneys general to congressional appropriators asking their support for continued funding for Byrne JAG. Byrne JAG is a federally-funded law enforcement program to individual states, guided by statewide strategic plans that ensure the most effective use and is considered by attorneys general to be the “cornerstone federal justice assistance program.” A continuing resolution passed by Congress will keep the program funded until March when the issue will again be up for discussion.

These issues, as well as many others, will likely see NAAG moving to action in the coming months. Copies of NAAG policy positions can be found at http://www.naag.org/policy_perspectives.php.

Potential Pool of Congressional Supporters

As NAAG moves to action in the 113th Congress, there is a potential pool of congressional supporters in those former attorneys general who have ascended to Congress. The following congressional members are all former attorneys general of their respective states and territory: Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Representative Pedro Pierluisi (New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico and D). Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is the former solicitor general for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

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