By a robust bipartisan majority, the Senate voted Tuesday to renew the Violence Against Women Act with new assurances that gays and lesbians, immigrants and Native American women will have equal access to the act's anti-domestic violence programs.
However, Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the Republican's choice to give the GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union address, was among the 22 GOP Senators to vote against reauthorizing the bill.
In a statement released just hours before delivering his Republican response, Rubio outlined the reasons why he couldn't vote to renew the bill, including a diversion of funds from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs.
“There’s no evidence to suggest this shift will result in a greater number of convictions,” Rubio said.
“These funding decisions should be left up to the state-based coalitions that understand local needs best, but instead this new legislation would put those decisions into the hands of distant Washington bureaucrats in the Department of Justice,” Rubio said.
President Barack Obama, in a statement, praised the Senate for working across party lines to pass the bill and said: "the bill passed by the Senate will help reduce homicides that occur from domestic violence, improve the criminal justice response to rape and sexual assault, address the high rates of dating violence experienced by young women, and provide justice to the most vulnerable among us."
During debate, the major divisive issue was a provision that allows tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians accused of assaulting Indian women on reservations. Republicans, arguing that subjecting non-Indians to Indian courts was unconstitutional, offered two amendments to strip that section from the bill, but both were defeated.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, (D-Wash.), who chairs the Indian Affairs Committee, said Indian women are raped and assaulted at 2½ times the national rate, and less than 50 percent of domestic violence cases on reservations, often far from federal courts, are prosecuted. "This is about the life and death of women who need a better system to help prosecute those who are committing serious crimes against them."
The Associated Press contributed to this report