Press Releases

As the House takes up a Separate Reauthorization of the Debbie Smith Act, the Senate must pass the full VAWA Reauthorization

Washington, October 23, 2019
Tags: Crime

Today, the House will vote on H.R. 777, the bipartisan Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2019. Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Ann Wagner (R-MO) introduced the original version of H.R. 777 on January 24, 2019. The legislation on the House floor today is an updated version of the bill.

Earlier this year, on April 4, 2019, the House passed the Debbie Smith Reauthorization as part of H.R. 1585, the bipartisan Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. Six months later, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has still not taken up and passed the critically important legislation, adding it to the Senate’s graveyard of House bills waiting to be passed and signed into law.

Democrats strongly support the passage, once again, of the Debbie Smith Act and will continue to insist that the Senate pass the full bipartisan VAWA Reauthorization. The authorization of VAWA expired on September 30, 2018 when Republicans controlled the House, Senate and the White House.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) spoke on the House floor in support of the Debbie Smith Act. Below is an excerpt from his remarks on the House floor:

“It is critical that we do all that we can to prevent sexual assault and that we ensure survivors receive the essential services they need, which is why we passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year. We continue to urge the Senate to do the right thing and pass that bill. And we will also—again—pass provisions to reauthorize the Debbie Smith Act by advancing this bill today…I urge my colleagues to support this bill – and to continue to fight to support the more comprehensive measures in the Violence Against Women Act.”

Chairman Nadler’s floor statement is available here.

Fact: The Debbie Smith Act helps to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits and other unanalyzed DNA evidence.

  • The Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2019 reauthorizes the Debbie Smith Act and the Debbie Smith Backlog Grant program for an additional five years, through FY 2024.
  • The bill ensures that grantee states and localities prioritize DNA analysis of crime scene samples from: rape kits, other sexual assault evidence, and also, cases without an identified suspect.
  • The bill also conditions eligibility for the Debbie Smith Backlog Grant program on the assurances that the DNA section of the laboratory to be used to conduct DNA analyses has a written policy that prioritizes the analysis of samples from homicides and sexual assaults.
  • Law enforcement has increasingly recognized that the backlog of DNA evidence awaiting entry in state databases can prevent law enforcement officials from solving many heinous crimes – which has made the Debbie Smith Act recognized as such a crucial program.

Fact: The Violence Against Women Act, enacted in 1994, is landmark legislation responding to our nation’s crisis of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

  • VAWA enhances judicial and law enforcement tools to combat violence against women.
  • The bill improves services for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
  • The legislation provides services, protection, and justice for young victims of violence.
  • VAWA strengthens the healthcare system’s response to domestic violence, dating violence & sexual assault and provides safe homes for victims.
  • The legislation helps provide economic security for victims of violence and preserves programs for communities of color & enhances protections for native American women.

VAWA fact sheet is available here.

Here’s what the groups are saying:

National Alliance to End Sexual Violence: "Survivors of sexual assault need comprehensive policy responses, and the Debbie Smith Act is one important tool in the criminal justice response to sexual assault. We applaud the House for passing the Debbie Smith Act not just once but twice as part of the Violence Against Women Act that passed the House last April. We hope the Senate will soon follow suit so that in addition to addressing the rape kit backlog, survivors have access to comprehensive services and our communities have resources to invest in prevention." Terri Poore, Policy Director, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence