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Long-Delayed Military Sexual Assault Bills Scheduled for Senate Debate

Long-Delayed Military Sexual Assault Bills Scheduled for Senate Debate

February 28, 2014 — Senate leaders have agreed to allow floor debate on two long-delayed bills aimed at reforming how the military handles sexual assault cases, the National Journal reports.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday reached a deal to expedite debate on the bills and bring them up for consideration as early as next week (Kaper [1], National Journal, 2/27).

The Senate earlier this week had blocked procedural votes on the measures.

Sens. Gillibrand, McCaskill Vie for Votes

One bill (S 1752), by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), would remove military cases involving crimes punishable by more than one year of confinement from the chain of command (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/25).

According to the Journal, Gillibrand has secured 55 votes for her measure but would need 60 to clear a procedural hurdle before a vote on the bill itself. She is trying to convince more senators to support allowing the vote, even if they do not ultimately cast votes for the bill (Kaper [2], National Journal, 2/27).

The other bill, by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), includes several reforms that are considered less controversial but would not remove sexual assault cases from the chain of command. The bill would, among other provisions, remove the "good soldier" defense, which allows a military court to reduce the sentence of service members convicted of sexual assault if they have strong military records.

Gillibrand and McCaskill both decided to advance their bills as stand-alone measures after the proposals were left out of the chamber's defense authorization bill, which included several other changes to how the military addresses sexual assault (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/7).