Ms. MOORE of Wisconsin. Mr. Chairman, my amendment increases funding for a critical program, the Violence Against Women Act Legal Assistance Program by $4 million.
I would like to thank Representative Poe for his diligent work on this amendment. And I also want to thank Representative Mollohan for his commitment on this issue as well.
You know, we all make lawyer jokes, but to the women who face domestic violence and need legal representation to successfully flee their abusers, obtain orders of protection, and retain custody of their children, the lack of legal representation is definitely not a laughing matter.
Nearly 70 percent of the women who bravely take their abusers to court do so without legal representation. And too often, having an attorney present is the deciding factor in obtaining that lifesaving personal protection order or getting custody of your kids or receiving transitional housing.
It's a sad day when a family is forced to stay with their abuser because they don't know how to navigate through the court system.
Earlier this week, Mr. Chairman, I heard from Chris in Wisconsin, whose husband sent her to the emergency room a dozen times, broke her foot, held a gun to her head, and threatened to poison her four children before she was able to escape with the help of legal assistance after 5 long years of torture.
I also heard from Danielle of Madison, Wisconsin, who obtained a divorce from her wealthy attorney husband who repeatedly beat and stabbed her, but was left battling her husband's expensive attorney for custody 2 years after the divorce. Her effort to study the Wisconsin statutes and defend herself in court drew ridicule and rebuke from the judge. These are just a couple of examples.
I would like to yield to Mr. Mollohan.
Mr. POE of Texas. I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I appreciate the gentlewoman from Wisconsin for her representation and hard work on this amendment.
Mr. Chairman, this amendment is a strong amendment, and it puts forth the proposition that victims' issues aren't partisan issues; they're people issues. [Page: H6923]
I strongly support this amendment to increase Legal Assistance for Victims by $4 million. That doesn't sound like much, but it's a lot of money for victims of crime. It will bring the total Legal Assistance for Victims grants to $41 million. This funding is offset by a $4 million reduction from the Department of Commerce--Departmental Management, Salaries and Expenses account. I think that money would be better served in being given to the Legal Assistance for Victims rather than giving raises
and salaries to this department.
These legal assistance grants provide much needed funding for domestic violence victims to seek protective orders, child custody, child support, and housing and public benefits assistance.
As I found during my 30 years as a prosecutor and as a judge, too often, domestic violence and sexual assault victims have to appear in court by themselves, alone. They don't have high-dollar lawyers pleading their cases or guiding them through the complex and often burdensome legal system that we have in all of our States and Federal courts. Instead, even though those who supposedly loved them chose to beat them up, they have to pay the price to fight their way through the legal system to request
civil protection. This shouldn't be. We need to match civil justice with our criminal justice system.
The Civil Legal Assistance for Victims program provides funding to meet the legal needs of domestic violence and sexual assault victims. It is the only federally funded program designed to meet all of the legal assistance needs of victims. It is one of the most crucial and lifesaving programs in the Violence Against Women Act; yet it remains critically underfunded. The demand for legal services is so high that the Office on Violence Against Women receives almost 300 applications per year, but
that office is only able to fund one-third of the total request.
We have a duty to protect the innocent and to make sure their voices are heard in our court system. We must ensure that victims are not further victimized by their abusers through the legal system in this country.
As founder and co-Chair of the bipartisan Victims' Rights Caucus, I support this amendment. I strongly urge its passage.
Ms. MOORE of Wisconsin. Well, thank you so much. I just want to mention again what an amazing partner Mr. Poe has been with this initiative. Indeed, this is not a partisan issue.
Mr. Poe mentioned that these funds will be drawn from the Department of Commerce's salaries and expenses, of which they're provided $60 million. That's $7 million over last year's funding. Of course, legal assistance programs have steadily declined since 2003, and only about a third of women who appear in court, the applicants who actually apply for this legal funding, actually receive funding. So this is really critical funding and support to help these women leave their abusers.
For every Danielle and Chris who are able to free themselves of their abusers, there are four other women out there who are still being silenced because they don't have access to adequate legal representation. This $4 million is very appreciated. It's not enough, but it's a great start. The legal assistance program is one of the most effective tools to ensure that battered women and children have a voice in our justice system. I urge support for this amendment.
I yield back the balance of my time.
The Acting CHAIR. The question is on the amendment offered by the gentlewoman from Wisconsin (Ms. Moore).
The question was taken; and the Acting Chair announced that the ayes appeared to have it.
Mr. KING of Iowa. Mr. Chairman, I demand a recorded vote.
The Acting CHAIR. Pursuant to clause 6 of rule XVIII, further proceedings on the amendment offered by the gentlewoman from Wisconsin will be postponed.
The Clerk will read.