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Senate votes to renew, expand Violence Against Women Act

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With strong bipartisan support, the Democratic-led Senate on Tuesday passed a White House-backed bill to expand and renew a landmark 1994 law to combat domestic violence.

On a 78-22 vote - with 23 Republicans joining 53 Democrats and two independents - the Senate sent the measure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act to the Republican-led House of Representative for consideration.

The measure would renew anti-domestic abuse programs and provide additional provisions for certain populations, such as Native Americans.

The House rejected a similar measure last year during the heat of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.

At the time, House Republicans complained about Democratic efforts to extend domestic abuse protections in the Violence Against Women Act to gays, illegal immigrants and Native Americans. Republicans accused Democrats of trying to score political points.

Backers said they are hopeful that the House will go along with the measure this time, or seek common ground on it with the Senate.

Democratic Senator Patty Murray said, "I was very encouraged last night to hear that 17 House Republicans" have written their leadership saying, "now is the time to seek bipartisan compromise."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and chief author of the bill, defended the bid to expand protections.

"A victim is a victim is a victim is a victim," Leahy said, regardless of their sexual preference, immigration status or if they are a Native American or not.

The bill also includes an amendment to combat human trafficking, which Leahy called "modern-day slavery."

"We know that young women and girls, often just 11, 12 or 13 years old, are being bought and sold. We know that workers are being held and forced into labor," Leahy said.

Vice President Joe Biden, while a senator, was a chief author of the Violence Against Women Act, which created an office within the Department of Justice to combat domestic abuse.

Since then, the law has been used to educate the public about domestic violence as well as create and fund programs to combat it.

(Reporting By Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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