March 11, 2014 — The Senate on Monday voted 97-0 to approve a measure (S 1917) that would reform how the military addresses sexual assault cases, but it will likely be several months before the House considers the bill, Reuters reports (Zengerle, Reuters, 3/10).
The measure, by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), includes several less-controversial reforms than another bill (S 1752), put forth by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and rejected by the Senate last week (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/7).
According to AP/Huffington Post, the McCaskill measure -- which has Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) as co-sponsors -- imposes about half a dozen changes to the military's process of addressing sexual assault (Cassata, AP/Huffington Post, 3/11).
Unlike Gillibrand's proposal, the McCaskill bill would not remove sexual assault cases from the chain of command. It would end the "good solider" defense, which allows a military court to reduce the sentences of service members convicted of sexual assault if they have a strong military record. It also would allow sexual assault survivors to challenge any discharges or separation from service, and require a review by a civilian service secretary if a prosecutor and commander disagree about whether to prosecute a sexual assault case (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/7).
In addition, the measure would also give sexual assault survivors greater say in whether their cases are tried in a civilian court or the military system and increase the accountability of commanders (AP/Huffington Post, 3/11). It would also extend to all military academies all recent changes included in the National Defense Authorization Act that relate to sexual assault prevention and response (Carney, National Journal, 3/10).
McCaskill's bill also would grant legal counsel to all accusers, eliminate the statute of limitations for courts-martial in sexual assault and rape trials, and criminalize retaliation against people who report sexual assault or rape (AP/Huffington Post, 3/11).
According to Reuters, the House is unlikely to consider the measure as a standalone bill (Reuters, 3/10). Democratic and Republican aides said the legislation would instead likely be considered later this year, when the chamber debates the latest National Defense Authorization Act (Samuelsohn, Politico, 3/10).
Michael Steel, a spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said Monday, "The entire House is proud of the bipartisan reforms on this important issue included in last year's defense authorization bill, and we will review this legislation to determine the best way to consider additional reforms in the House" (AP/Huffington Post, 3/11).
McCaskill said Monday, "Unanimous agreement in the U.S. Senate is pretty rare -- but rarer still is the kind of sweeping, historic change we've achieved over the past year in the military justice system," adding that the Senate successfully "voted to strengthen even further what is now one of the most victim-friendly justice systems in the world" (National Journal, 3/10).
McCaskill added that she hopes the Senate's unanimous support for her measure would help it garner approval from the House, saying, "I'll continue fighting ... to get this bill across the finish line" (Reuters, 3/10).
Separately, Greg Jacob, policy director for Service Women's Action Network, said that while "this bill does not create the critical fundamental change needed to improve the military justice system, [the bill] builds on useful reforms already undertaken by Congress" (Politico, 3/10).