Against Women Policy Trends Report 14
April 24, 2001
National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center
University of Missouri - St. Louis
With Congress on a two-week Easter
recess, federal legislative activity slowed considerably in mid-April.
The nation's lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill yesterday with an eye
toward making progress on the President's priorities particularly
tax cuts and education reform in the five weeks of work leading
up to their Memorial Day break.
President Bush has given victims'
advocates reason to cheer recently. Mr. Bush decided to allow new medical
privacy rules issued during the Clinton Administration to take effect
with only a few changes. The regulations require patient authorization
for the use or disclosure of medical information and create penalties
for the improper use of health records. Advocates hope the new law,
which will take effect in two years, will allow full medical documentation
of domestic violence without placing women in fear of discrimination
from employers or retaliation from their abusers.
In another move favorable to the
violence prevention community, President Bush recommended full funding
for domestic violence and sexual assault programs administered by the
Department of Justice. However, analysts report that the President's
fiscal year 2002 budget proposal for similar programs run by the Department
of Health and Human Services falls short of what was authorized by the
Violence Against Women Act of 2000 (VAWA 2000). The budget approved
last year by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton provided
only $468 million of the $677 million authorized in the VAWA 2000.
As the United States economy has
cooled over the past year, revenues have dropped below annual expenditures
in many states, making budget deliberations even more arduous this year.
A handful of legislatures may have to extend their sessions to allow
more time for negotiators to hammer out the details. When appropriators
are looking for spending measures to cut, violence against women programs
are not always immune to the legislative axe. Analysts believe that
a Tennessee bill imposing tougher penalties on men who rape their wives
will likely fall victim to fiscal concerns in the cash-strapped state.
An Iowa legislator recently made waves when he questioned the cost of
the state's program to treat sexually violent predators after they serve
their prison term.
Iowa is not the only state examining
its policy of civil confinement for high-risk sex offenders. The Washington
Senate recently approved a plan to substitute tougher prison sentences
for forced psychological treatment of rapists and molesters. The state's
program has passed constitutional muster in the United States Supreme
Court (see Trends Report 10), but lawsuits challenging the practice
have exposed shortcomings, causing state lawmakers to question its efficacy.
Despite some legislative setbacks, state civil confinement schemes continue
to receive judicial approval. A New Jersey appeals court recently ruled
in favor of keeping dangerous sexual predators locked up after they
serve their prison terms.
Sex offender registrations based
on New Jersey's Megan's Law have not fared well lately in the courts.
U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny ruled that Connecticut's registry
violates due process law because it fails to provide offenders the opportunity
to demonstrate that they are not dangerous. (See Trends Report 13.)
A week later, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made a similar
ruling on Alaska's policy requiring sex offenders to register even if
convicted before the registry law was passed by the legislature.
In recent days, the Oklahoma Legislature
approved a bill requiring convicted sex offenders to notify state and
local law enforcement at least three days prior to changing their residence.
The Washington House passed a measure to fix a loophole in the state's
"Two Strikes" law that puts two-time sex offenders in prison for life.
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has asked the Legislature to
add more types of sexual offenders to the state's registry, including
those who utilize "date-rape" drugs in sexually assaulting their victim.
Domestic violence issues continue
to garner consideration from state lawmakers. Michigan Lieutenant Governor
Dick Posthumus recently released a report by the 13-member Domestic
Violence Homicide Prevention Task Force. The report, which resulted
from six months of study and several public hearings, includes recommendations
to change the legal system to help victims, give victims of dating violence
protections under domestic violence law, and create a Web site and school
curricula to educate the public about domestic violence. To enhance
protections for battered women, the report calls for the sealing of
court records that provide information about victims. A similar measure
has been introduced in Texas (HB 2964) and has come under scrutiny for
proposing to block access to public documents.